That startling claim, which spread across the U.S. news media on the afternoon of Jan. 23, 2017, began with a vague and misleading tweet by the Associated Press that was apparently based in part on a misreading of reports by Russian state media.
“BREAKING: Russian Defense Ministry says its warplanes have flown first combat mission in Syria with U.S.-led coalition aircraft,” the A.P. tweeted at 12:18 P.M. EST.
The Pentagon flatly denied the claim. “The Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria,” department spokesman Eric Pahon told The Daily Beast. “DoD maintains a channel of communication with the Russian military focused solely on ensuring the safety of aircrews and de-confliction of coalition and Russian operations in Syria.”
The A.P.’s report is inaccurate, but the wire service’s confusion is perhaps understandable — and, for Moscow, might even be the whole point. It’s not hard to see how Russia benefits from news reports claiming that the United States and Russia are fighting side-by-side in Syria.