Russia Surprises U.S. With Accord on Battling ISIS – New York Times

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin look towards one another during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28,  2015.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin look towards one another during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015.

UNITED NATIONS — For the second time this month, Russia moved to expand its political and military influence in the Syria conflict and left the United States scrambling, this time by reaching an understanding, announced on Sunday, with Iraq, Syria and Iran to share intelligence about the Islamic State.

Like Russia’s earlier move to bolster the government of President Bashar al-Assad by deploying warplanes and tanks to a base near Latakia, Syria, the intelligence-sharing arrangement was sealed without notice to the United States. American officials knew that a group of Russian military officers were in Baghdad, but they were clearly surprised when the Iraqi military’s Joint Operations Command announced the intelligence sharing accord on Sunday.

It was another sign that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was moving ahead with a sharply different tack from that of the Obama administration in battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by assembling a rival coalition that includes Iran and the Syrian government.

The effort, which Mr. Putin is expected to underscore in his speech at the United Nations on Monday, not only puts Moscow in a position to give military support to Mr. Assad, its longtime ally in the Middle East, but could also enable the Kremlin to influence the choice of a successor if Mr. Assad were to eventually leave power.

Russia’s moves are raising difficult questions for the Obama administration, which remains deeply conflicted about American military involvement in the Syria conflict. Ensuring that the Russian military and the United States-led coalition, which is carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State, “deconflict” and avoid running into each other is only part of the problem: The Obama administration and the Kremlin do not appear to agree even on the main reason for the conflict.

American officials, who have long cast Mr. Assad as the primary source of instability in Syria, assert that the Syrian leader’s brutal crackdown provided an opening for jihadist groups and that the crisis cannot be resolved until a political transition is negotiated that requires him to leave power. But Russian officials see the Syrian government as a bulwark against further gains by groups like Islamic State and Nusra Front and sometimes suggest that the defeat of the Islamic State should come before a negotiated solution for the Syrian conflict.

Even as the United States has banked on a diplomatic strategy of trying to enlist Russia’s cooperation in Syria, the Kremlin has continued to jolt the White House with its unilateral military and political moves.

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