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The Russian Sukhoi-25 fighter jet downed in Syria's northwest province of Idlib on February 3, 2018. Photo: Omar Haj Kadour / AFP / Getty Images

Relations between Russia and Turkey took a hit last week after a Russian warplane was shot down over Idlib province by Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a Syrian al-Qaeda offshoot allied with Turkey.

Why it matters: HTS used a “man-portable air-defense system” (MANPAD), a shoulder-fired missile system the U.S. has refused to provide to Kurdish militias, fearing it could fall into the hands of extremists. The terror group likely received the weapon from Turkey.

The Russian plane's downing followed a joint attack by HTS and Turkish troops that undermined a Russian-led “de-escalation zone.” In response, Russia has blocked Turkish fighter jets and drones from entering Syrian air space.

The bottom line: Syrian peace talks in Astana have already collapsed as a result of Turkish aggression, including the recent unprovoked attacks on Kurdish civilians in Afrin. This setback in Russia-Turkey relations increases tensions between countries vying for influence in Syria. In a region where "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," it may improve U.S.–Russia relations, catalyzing greater cooperation between Washington and Moscow in UN-brokered negotiations.

David L. Phillips is director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.