Strikes by Russian fighters against militants in Syria have added a new dimension to the toxic mix of civil strife and politics in the Middle East.
Russia has spent recent weeks building up a presence at Moscow’s only Mediterranean base on the Syrian coast.
Now, President Vladimir Putin has unleashed the jets on groups fighting to overthrow President Assad, a long-time ally of the Kremlin.
However, although the Russians claim their offensive is aimed at the Islamic State, which holds vast tracts of Syria and Iraq, the US argues the strikes were against opposition groups funded by Washington and other Western governments.
The US has demanded President Assad stands down to facilitate a peace process in the region.
Although neither side has yet flown operations in Syrian airspace at the same time, Russia seems to be battering the ground positions of US backed freedom fighters as well as the Islamic State.
The fear is sooner or later Russian and US warplanes will be in the air at the same time attacking groups allied to the other.
Both Russia and the US have agreed to carry out operations against Islamic State and terrorist groups fighting alongside them.
Russia has stepped into the arena in a bid after revealing 2,000 Russians are fighting with Islamic State and concerns in the Kremlin that they may return home trained and equipped as terrorists.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that Washington would have ‘grave concerns’ if the Russian military struck against opposition groups rather than Islamic State and related terror groups.
War of words
Meanwhile, Putin announced on Russian TV that the air strikes were in support of the Syrian government against legitimate terrorist targets.
The Syrians reported seven joint air operations with the Russians against targets around the city of Homs, claiming direct hits on military targets.
Opposition leaders allege 36 civilians were killed in the attacks, including five children.
The US and French governments announced that none of the air strikes appeared to hit Islamic State targets and claimed Moscow was taking action to prop up Assad’s forces, which are diminishing in numbers and losing ground against well-armed and organised opposition.
The Russians countered stating they attacked Islamic State targets exclusively and had entered the conflict to stop Western governments toppling a lawful government to leave a power vacuum and breeding ground for terrorists.