Let's start with one thing that's clear and simple in Syria's messy war: Many foreign powers are engaged in the battle, and all share the goal of beating back the Islamic State.

This very loose grouping includes Turkey and Russia, who aren't best friends, but at least have this common interest in Syria that would seem to override any inclination to confront one another.

Turkey says that after issuing 10 warnings in five minutes, two of its F-16s shot down a Russian warplane that Turkey claims violated its airspace.

When the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle reaches its position near Syria's coast, it will find what until recently might have seemed an unlikely ally: a Russian guided missile cruiser. A U.S. official says Russia is newly receptive to cooperation in Syria.

Following a meeting of the Group of 20 in Turkey, Russian president Vladimir Putin signaled that his country's isolation from the West may soon be a thing of the past.

Putin said Russia had proposed cooperating with the United States and others in the fight against terrorism, but that the U.S. rebuffed Russia's offer.

"Life indeed moves on, often very quickly, and teaches us lessons," Putin said. "It seems to me that everyone is coming around to the realization that we can wage an effective fight only together."

Plane Crash Was A 'Terrorist Act,' Russian Officials Say

Nov 17, 2015

The Russian government has determined it was a bomb that brought down a Russian plane over Egypt, killing all 224 people on board.

"One can unequivocally say that it was a terrorist act," Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia's Federal Security Service, said at a meeting chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bortnikov said that "traces of foreign explosives" were found on the wreckage.

A Russian aircraft carrying 217 passengers and seven crew members has crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, according to Egyptian authorities. The Airbus A321 lost contact with both Egyptian and Russian officials after it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on a flight to St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Russian Aviation Agency says the airliner was a charter flight carrying tourists back from a popular Russian vacation spot, NPR's Corey Flintoff tells our Newscast unit. The plane was operated by Metrojet, a small airline formerly called Kolavia.

In his first known international trip since civil war began in Syria, President Bashar Assad has just returned from a quick visit in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Assad reportedly briefed Putin on Syria's current and future military operations.

Assad's trip was kept secret until after Tuesday's meeting — and after the Syrian leader's safe return home.

Secretary of State John Kerry stepped before a packed auditorium Thursday. He was at Indiana University for the opening of a school of international studies.

"I have managed to completely forget that when running for president in 2004, I was crushed in Indiana," he quipped.

Kerry was welcomed Thursday as he promoted the Obama administration's recent international agreements, like deals on Pacific trade and Iran's nuclear program.

After a 15-month probe, investigators with the Dutch Safety Board have concluded that a Russian Buk missile took down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine last year.

The crash in July 2014 killed all 298 people on board, most of whom were from the Netherlands.

Russian cruise missiles that were fired from warships in the Caspian sea and were intended to hit Syrian targets crashed in Iran, instead, a U.S. official tells NPR's Tom Bowman.

Tom reports that the missiles landed in a rural area of Iran. Local television, Tom reports, said "that something crashed and exploded near the northern city of Tekab, shattering windows and leaving a large crater."

A day after the Russian navy fired cruise missiles at targets in Syria — and two days after Russia's warplanes veered into Turkey's airspace — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance "is able and ready to defend all allies, including Turkey, against any threat."

Updated at 11:20 a.m. ET

In a new development that could change the dynamic of Syria's civil war, Russian military began carrying out airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday. Russia says it will target ISIS fighters as part of a plan to fight terrorism.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby says a Russian official informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad about the missions and also requested that American military aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during Russian operations.

Updated 9:20 p.m. ET

A senior Obama administration official described Monday's 90-minute meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin as "productive," though it left several key issues unresolved.

The official said it was a "business-like back and forth. I think they worked through a lot of different issues. This was focused."

The first half of the meeting focused on Ukraine, while the second centered on Syria.

President Obama is set to have a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

It's not clear exactly when the two leaders would meet, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the encounter would happen Monday when Putin is scheduled to deliver remarks at the U.N.

The White House confirmed the meeting would take place, but did not specify when.

According to a senior administration official:

Stalin's Ghost

Jul 14, 2015
Eugene Zelenko / Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Stalin's only daughter grew up the beloved pet of a man responsible for a decades-long campaign to arrest, torture, execute or forcibly imprison millions of Soviet citizens, including children and members of his own family. That's what we know now.

Sean Scanlon / Office of Sen. Chris Murphy

Ukrainian Americans, many with family members still living in the country, packed Hartford's Ukrainian National Home for the town hall meeting about the situation in the Eastern European country.

Dhārmikatva / Creative Commons

A Fairfield University professor is joining international calls for a full and transparent investigation into the killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.  

David McFadden is director of the Russian and East European studies program at Fairfield. He said he doesn’t believe Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the murder, “but there are plenty of right-wing people close to the regime, or on the fringes of the regime, that wanted him dead because he was a great opposition alternative,” he said.

In a claim that's meeting with skepticism in Kiev, Russian-backed separatists say they've started to withdraw heavy weapons in eastern Ukraine, as required by a recent cease-fire. Ukraine's military says separatist attacks are ongoing.

The development comes after Russia's President Vladimir Putin said he thinks a war with Ukraine would be "apocalyptic" — but that the area is now on a path to stability, after the recent Minsk agreement.

British fighter jets scrambled from their base on Wednesday after two Russian long-range bombers skirted the coast of Cornwall, in the southwest of England. The incident comes one day after British Foreign Secretary Michael Fallon warned about Russia's intentions in Europe.

Following heavy shelling in what had been a Ukraine-controlled city, the central government's force is retreating from Debaltseve, a key railroad and transportation hub. Ukraine says it has now withdrawn 80 percent of its armed forces from the city.

"I can say now that the Ukrainian armed forces and the National Guard completed an operation on the planned and organized withdrawal of some units from Debaltseve this morning," Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said, according to the Interfax news agency in Ukraine.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have resulted in a cease-fire which is set to begin Sunday. But there's still a long ways to go before a lasting peace can exist between the two countries.

Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman doesn't think the cease-fire will hold. He told CNN that the U.S. should send weapons to Ukrainian fighters to help counter Russian-backed troops and President Vladamir Putin.

"I think if we give them the weapons to defend themselves, it actually raises the prospects that the cease-fire will hold because it creates a little more balance on the ground and creates a bit of a disincentive for Putin and the separatists to keep moving through eastern Ukraine," said Lieberman.

A new cease-fire is set to begin Sunday in eastern Ukraine, in a deal after 16 hours of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. The leaders of France and Germany helped broker the deal, which calls for a buffer zone free of heavy weapons. News of the temporary peace emerged along with a new international aid plan for Ukraine.

As has been the case in Ukraine's nearly yearlong conflict with separatists, the new arrangement established by Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko leaves some important issues unresolved.

A year ago, Russia's economy was riding high. Today, the country is widely thought to be entering a recession, if it's not already there.

The plunge in oil prices has been the main culprit, but Russia's economy has had trouble regaining its footing because of sanctions imposed by the West after the annexation of Crimea. President Obama and other Western leaders were quick to condemn Russia when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula last March, and they struggled to find a way to show their outrage.

Evgeny Feldman / Wikimedia Commons

Updated at 11:36 a.m. 

A Russian activist with ties to Yale University has received a suspended sentence on fraud charges. Alexei Navalny has become a prominent political opposition leader in Russia, leading protests over the years against President Vladimir Putin. 

According to the Associated Press, thousands of protestors took to the streets outside the Kremlin in response to the conviction. Navalny was subsequently arrested for breaking the terms of his house arrest and joining the protestors.

Apples and oranges / Creative Commons

It’s been just over a year since Russian authorities arrested 30 activists aboard Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior III -- a ship protesting Russia’s controversial oil rig in the Arctic. Among those arrested was the ship’s captain, Peter Willcox, a Greenpeace veteran and resident of Norwalk, Connecticut. 

President Obama departed the venue of the annual G20 summit in Australia today, declaring it had been a "strong week for American leadership."

The gathering wrapped up by promising to fight climate change and work toward boosting economic growth even as leaders made it clear that new sanctions would be imposed on Russia if Moscow doesn't back down in Eastern Ukraine.

Elections in Ukraine are pointing to a new parliament that will be dominated by pro-Western parties, a result that President Petro Poroshenko is hailing as a "course toward Europe" but one that is likely to further anger Russia.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Kiev that exit polls show the bloc supporting Porsohenko is projected to win about 23 percent of the vote, followed closely by an allied party, the People's Front, with around 21 percent.

As Oil Prices Fall, Who Wins And Who Loses?

Oct 16, 2014

With oil around $85 a barrel and tumbling to its lowest levels in several years, here's the upside: Gasoline prices are down, the U.S. is feeling less dependent on foreign crude, and serious economic pressure is growing on oil producers such as Iran and Russia.

Here's the downside: The low demand for oil reflects a fragile global economy that's vulnerable to additional shocks, like falling stock markets around the world.

A group of hackers, allegedly from Russia, found a fundamental flaw in Microsoft Windows and exploited it to spy on Western governments, NATO, European energy companies and an academic organization in the United States.

That's according to new research from iSight Partners, a Dallas-based cybersecurity firm.

An initial investigation by Dutch experts appears to support the long-held theory of what happened to MH17 over eastern Ukraine: The Malaysian airliner was brought down by multiple "high-energy objects from outside the aircraft."

Although the preliminary technical report by the Dutch Safety Board did not directly say the objects were surface-to-air missiles, it left little room to conclude otherwise.