President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to tip off Russia's military before launching any attacks.
The US tries hard to avoid killing Russians in Syria, despite the President's hostile rhetoric to Moscow.
Russia is Syria's ally, but does not approve of all of its behavior.
Moscow seems willing to let the US hit some Syrian targets as punishment for alleged chemical weapons use.
Experts say it's possible for the US to hit Syrian troops while dodging Russian ones, and so avoid a major escalation.
President Donald Trump will reportedly tip off the Russian military before launching a proposed missile strike on Syria, so that Moscow can get its forces out of the way.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on Wednesday that the US will give the Russian military a list of its targets it intends to hit. Its report said that no high-value Russian assets like ships or planes are in the crosshairs.
The site also reports that Russia has spoken to US military leaders, and to NATO (via Turkey) to avoid an escalating conflict as the West prepares to punish Syria for incidents of chemical warfare.
The coordination between Russia and the US, the world's two greatest military and nuclear powers, has positive implications for avoiding a massive escalation.
But it also raises the questions of how significant Trump's strike can be without ruffling Russia's feathers, and how committed Russia is to protecting the Syrian government from Western attacks.
Trump is planning a big strike, but not World War III
Trump is reportedly exploring a much larger strike against Syria, as the strike in April 2017 didn't meaningfully hamper Syria's air operations. The airbase the US hit began launching aircraft again within 24 hours of the strike.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that "all options are on the table" and that the US may strike Russian assets in Syria.
However, experts told Business Insider such a confrontation was unlikely.
"The Americans take pains to avoid striking targets that are Russian regulars," said Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor. He distinguished between "regulars" — official, enlisted soldiers — and military contractors, which the US has engaged in the past.
Additionally, Bohl said that Syria's chemical weapons facilities can be hit without upsetting Russian forces, as "those bases are close to Russian bases but not within Russian weapons range."
The idea of a coordinated, punitive strike on Syria runs counter to the narrative put forth by a Russian diplomat, who on Wednesday said Russia would shoot down US missiles headed for Syria, and potentially strike back.
Cliff Kupchan, the Eurasia Group's chairman and a former US State Department official, told Business Insider: "I think that in the Syrian theater, Russia is unlikely to interfere with the coming US operation or take military steps to prevent it or in retribution, despite their comments."
"Russia’s not spoiling in any sense for a military conflict. Putin is ruthlessly rational in weighting cost-benefits."
As for Trump's aggressive rhetoric Kupchan said: "he’s got to show he’s tough on Russia to his base, and there may be some link to the Mueller investigation."
Russia may know Syria's Assad has gone too far
Russia has largely staked its credibility in the Middle East on saving Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime from collapse during its bloody, seven-year civil war.
However, Kupchan and others told Business Insider it's an open secret that Russia doesn't like Assad much.
Kupchan said the Kremlin may once have held influence over Assad, when there was a chance he could lose the ongoing civil war. But, now that Assad's forces are dominant, Kupchan says Russian has little influence over Assad, who brings negative attention to the alliance with his use of chemical weapons.
Chemical weapons kill fewer people than regular bombs, but do so in a "particularly terrifying" way, according to Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute.
Bronk said Russia likely pressures Syria not to use chemical weapons, on the grounds that they raise the risk of a US strike and aren't needed militarily. However, Bronk said Assad uses them anyway to "depopulate" rebel areas, as the fumes from the weapons seep into shelters where regular bombs can't reach. They often kill children in the process.
"I think the Russians have limited control over Assad," said Kupchan, who has met Putin several times. "That’s why they don’t like him so much."
Unanimously, experts who spoke to Business Insider agreed that the US and Russia have a heavy interest in avoiding a third world war. Deconfliction lines between the US and Russia help.
If the US can punish Syria by striking its chemical weapons facilities away from Russian servicemen and equipment, the strike could go over as successfully as the last one, which went virtually unpunished and won Trump wide praise for his foreign policy boldness.