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Given the conflicting agendas of the U.S.-led coalition in Syria and Russia's aims in the region, it may only have been a matter of time before their diverging purposes led to a physical confrontation. That is apparently what happened today when Turkish fighter planes shot down a Russian warplane the Turks claimed had violated their airspace near the Turkish-Syrian border. The downing of a Russian military aircraft by a NATO member state clearly has heightened tensions in an already chaotic conflict. The U.S. and its allies need to focus on managing the fallout from the incident in a way that reduces the chances of similar misadventures in the future.

Military experts had been warning for weeks that the chances of a deadly encounter between Russian and coalition aircraft over Syria were growing. In today's confrontation at least one Russian crew member aboard the downed aircraft was killed; the fate of a second crew member remains unclear. Russian President Vladimir Putin angrily denounced Turkey's action as a "stab in the back" and warned of "serious consequences" for Turkish-Russian relations. Turkish officials, for their part, staunchly maintained their right to defend their airspace and claimed their pilots had repeatedly warned the intruder to leave the area.

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In September, Mr. Putin dispatched dozens of older, Soviet-era ground attack aircraft to Syria to prop up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces had suffered significant setbacks on the battlefield against both ISIS and the Western-backed Syrian opposition. Mr. Putin claimed that his goal was to push back ISIS advances on the ground. But the U.S. and its allies complained that most of the Russian airstrikes were carried out against moderate rebel groups, not ISIS, and that Mr. Putin seemed far more intent on saving Mr. Assad, a longtime ally, than in destroying the terrorist organization.

That disagreement demonstrates the fundamental difference in strategy between Russia and the West that led to today's incident. The U.S. and its allies insist that no progress can be made toward ending Syria's four-year civil war until Mr. Assad exits the scene. Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad's other major backer, say the Assad government is the only force capable of defeating ISIS and that allowing it to fall would only further destabilize the region and create a power vacuum that terrorist groups would rush to fill, since neither Russia nor the U.S. is inclined to put its own troops on the ground.

The result, however, is that the U.S.-led coalition and Russia and Iran now find themselves working at cross-purposes in their battle against their common enemy, ISIS, which ironically is now benefiting from the conflict among its opponents.

In an ideal world, the U.S. would seek some accommodation with Russia and Iran that allowed the two sides to demarcate separate, mutually agreed upon spheres of operations in which to carry out attacks against ISIS without interfering with each other. The Obama administration believes that such a de facto alliance with Russia and Iran would prolong Mr. Assad's brutal grip on power, and it's probably right. However, the time may have come to consider whether the fate of Mr. Assad remains the most important national security consideration for the United States in Syria. Russia, after the downing of its airliner by ISIS, may well want to do the same.

France's President Francois Hollande met with President Obama today in Washington to discuss ways of breaking the diplomatic and military logjam that has prevented the U.S. and NATO from making common cause with Russia and Iran in the fight against ISIS. But aside from pledges of greater cooperation between U.S. and French security officials in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris this month, it's unclear what new initiatives to better coordinate Western and Russian efforts against ISIS may have emerged from the talks. Mr. Hollande is also scheduled to meet with Mr. Putin in Moscow later this week, where he is expected to make a similar appeal for a unified front against ISIS.

In the meantime both the U.S. and Russia must tread carefully in responding to today's downing of the Russian aircraft over Turkey and the loss of its crew. The last thing either side needs is a dangerous escalation in tensions between ISIS' two most powerful opponents that would only work to the terrorists' advantage.

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