Russia and US in conflict that risks turning armed
Moscow to ‘target’ American warplanes after Washington’s downing of a Syrian military jet
24 June, 2017
Russian Su-33 fighter jets stand on the flight deck of the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, 15 November 2016.
A US-backed anti-government Syrian fighter stands on a vehicle with a machine gun, next to an American soldier at the Syrian-Iraqi crossing border point of Tanf.
“Obviously, we’re going to do what we can to protect our interests,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
Russia’s defence ministry said it will treat as targets US-led coalition planes in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, after the US military shot down a Syrian Air Force jet on 18 June. The statement followed after a US F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian government SU-22 jet on 18 June in the countryside southwest of Raqqa. Moscow has condemned the US downing of the Syrian government fighter jet. The Russian defence ministry said in a statement that, starting last Monday, it will track all jets and drones of the US-led coalition and treat them as targets. Moscow also suspended a hotline between Russia and the US set up to prevent mid-air collisions. Russia, which has been providing air cover for Syria's President Bashar Assad since 2015, has an agreement with the US aimed at preventing incidents involving either country's warplanes engaged in operations in Syria.
The defence ministry in Moscow has said that the change of approach will apply to all fighter jets operating as part of the US-backed coalition. As a result, Australia, which is part of a US-led coalition, announced it would cease its air strikes against IS group targets in Syria. "The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty," the ministry said. Downing the jet was akin to "helping the terrorists that the US is fighting against,” according to Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. The White House responded to Russian warnings by saying the US will do whatever is necessary to protect America’s military and its interests in Syria. Washington said the Syrian army jet had dropped bombs near US-backed forces but Damascus said the plane was downed while flying a mission against IS militants.
“The Coalition's mission is to defeat IS in Iraq and Syria. The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition or partner forces from any threat," a statement released by US Central Command on 18 June said. “Obviously, we’re going to do what we can to protect our interests,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer. “We will always preserve the right of self-defence.” Spicer said the US intends to keep “the lines of communication open with the Russians to de-conflict potential issues.” Russia warned the US a week earlier that it was unacceptable for Washington to strike pro-government forces in Syria after the US military carried out an air strike on pro-Assad militia last month. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov relayed the message to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call on 10 June initiated by the US side.
The Russian media commented that Moscow’s hard stance comes in the context of new sanctions against Russia approved by the US Congress and imposed ahead of the upcoming meeting between presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in July. “Moscow is drawing a ‘red line’ that the US air forces and its allies should not cross,” the BBC cites Kommersant as noting. “The main threat arising from the Syrian conflict is that it might inadvertently trigger another, far more dangerous clash between Russia and the US,” says expert Vladimir Sotnikov interviewed by the newspaper.