Russian Colonel Yevgeni, thin and close-shaven with a dark moustache, smiled politely but refused to talk to me – being the first western news media to visit the tiny village near Resafeh – but his young Kurdish opposite number, who asked me not to disclose his name, insisted that “all of us are fighting in one campaign against Daesh [Isis], and that is why we have this centre – and to avoid mistakes”.

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The Russian Investigative Committee contested Wednesday the report of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) alleging widespread doping in Russia, which threatened the country's participation in 2018 Winter Olympics.

After a sweeping Syrian military advance to the edge of the besieged Isis “capital” of Raqqa, the Russians, the Syrian army and Kurds of the YPG militia – theoretically allied to the US – have set up a secret “coordination” centre in the desert of eastern Syria to prevent “mistakes” between the Russian-backed and American-supported forces now facing each other across the Euphrates river.

There was no sign of bodies but the Syrian army had with some sense of irony left the original black and white Isis sign standing on the main road from Homs, “welcoming” visitors to the Isis “Caliphate-Province of Raqqa”.

Syria’s forward units of Russian-made tanks and infantry armour now cluster not far from the Roman and Umayad city of Resafeh, whose massive walls and stone towers still stand – untouched by Isis’s two years of culturecide, perhaps because their carvings display no human or animal images.

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