Syria has been embroiled in a civil war since 2011, when violence broke out in the wake of uprisings against the government and pro-Assad forces.
Since March 2011 Syria has been torn by violence. In a wave of protests extending the mass revolutions of the Arab Spring in North Africa, Syrians took to the streets to demand more freedoms and constitutional protections from the government of Bashar al-Assad. The protests were violently suppressed and the country divided along religious and political lines. An exodus of refugees has flooded neighboring countries while the international community deliberates peace initiatives.
A 49-year deal to prolong Russia's control of a key Mediterranean port means a massive expansion of its naval presence in Syria. Another accord was signed recently to maintain a nearby Russian airbase in the country.
The joint attack is the latest example of Moscow co-opting a key NATO member as it tries to, again, become a superpower. Russian led peace talks are due to convene in Kazakhstan next week without the UN or the US.