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Colonel Yevgeni nodded approvingly at this description but maintained his silence – a wise man, I thought – for he must be the easternmost Russian officer in Syria, only a few miles from the Euphrates river.

The 24-year-old Kurdish YPG representative, a veteran of the Isis siege of Kobani on the Turkish border, said that just over two weeks ago – after the latest Syrian offensive took Isis forces west of Raqqa by surprise – a Russian air strike had mistakenly targeted a Kurdish position.

Who controls these wealth machines – how their product will be shared now it has been freed from the Isis mafia – will determine part of Syria’s future political history.

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When I later travelled across the desert to Homs, I followed for some time a truck carrying a 155mm artillery piece so overused that its barrel had split apart.

Yet already, Syrian engineers are restoring electricity capacity from the desert generating stations which have only recently been hideouts for Isis leaders, a power system intimately connected to the Syrian oil fields, slowly being recovered from the Isis enemy, which remain – modest though they are in comparison with the great Gulf, Iraqi and Iranian oil resources – Syria’s “pearl in the desert”.

Resafeh was the Roman city of Sergiopolis, named after a Christian Roman centurion who was tortured and put to death for his religion – not unlike Isis’s own Christian victims in the deserts here three years ago.

The highway east from Homs was expected to have been the route of the Syrian attack this month.

These men – many of whom are teenagers – are billeted in tent encampments beside the road, protected by tanks and anti-aircraft guns.

And their battles are constant, Isis still placing IED bombs beside the highway today.

Land crossings into Iran were shut to Iraqi Kurdistan on Monday, as Iraq's 8.4 million Kurds lined up at polling stations to vote in a referendum on creating an independent state.

The decision follows the closure of both Iranian and Turkish airspace to Iraq on Sunday.

General Saleh, the one-legged commander of the Syrian division on the Euphrates – who has adapted this policy many times, along with his fellow officer and friend, Colonel “Tiger” Suheil – says that his forces could, if he wished, be in the centre of Raqqa within five hours “if we decided to do that”. There was just a hint of a grin on the officer’s face, but then it faded.

He described how his men had first driven al-Qaeda and Isis from the Sheikh Najjar industrial city outside Aleppo back to the Assad lake, how they had protected the water supply to the city at great loss to their own forces, how they had moved east from the Koyeress airbase to capture Deir Hafer and Meskane and other towns in the Aleppo countryside – and then suddenly surged south east, south of the Euphrates towards Raqqa. In fact, I don’t think the Syrians will get involved with the American-supported force fighting for Raqqa – that, after all, was the point of the little “coordination” centre I saw in the desert – but I do believe the Syrian army are heading for Deir ez-Zour.

But, however tenuous the new YPG-Russian-Syrian connections may be, they demonstrate that all sides are determined to avoid any military confrontation between Moscow and Washington.

48 Comments

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