After a U.S. Navy F-18 shot down a Syrian military aircraft flying over Syrian territory on Sunday, Russia’s defense ministry announced that it will no longer communicate with U.S. forces in the area to avoid military mishaps and will begin tracking all “flying objects” in Syrian skies near Russian forces as potential threats.
The U.S. attack marks the first time the military has engaged in air-to-air combat since the 1999 NATO offensive against Yugoslavia.
The Pentagon claims it attacked the Syrian aircraft immediately after it “dropped bombs near Syrian Democratic Forces fighters south of Tabqah.”
Witnesses on the ground in Syria are disputing the Pentagon’s official explanation. Even the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is reporting that its sources in the area were unaware of any bombing attack on anti-government forces by the plane prior to the U.S. offensive actions.
The attack on the Syrian jet, DoD officials claim, was carried out ” in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces.”
“We consider such actions of the U.S. command as an intentional violation of its obligations in the framework of the memo on avoiding incidents and the safety of aviation flights during operations in Syria signed on October 20, 2015,” the ministry said in a statement.
Russian lawmaker Alexei Pushkov took to Twitter over the weekend, declaring that the U.S. aggression is a clear sign that the nation is at war with Syria.
“The U.S. carried out a new act of war against Syria. Why are they talking about defense? Raqqa is Syrian city, not American,” Pushkov wrote.
He added: “The U.S. regularly carries out strikes on military objects and the Syrian Air Force. It means that they are in the condition of a limited war with Syria.”
Frants Klintsevich, a chairman of the Russian Senate’s defense committee, also took to social media to blast U.S. actions in the country.
“It is Russia that is being provoked most of all,” Klintsevich said via Facebook. “It seems that the United States under Donald Trump is the source of danger for the Middle East and the whole world on a qualitatively new level.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was a little more reserved in his statement regarding the U.S. attack– but still strongly urged U.S. officials to respect Syrian sovereignty.
“We call on the United State and all others who have their forces or advisors on the ground [in Syria] to ensure the coordination in our work. Zones of de-escalation are one of the possible options to jointly move forward. We call on everyone to avoid unilateral moves, respect Syrian sovereignty and join our common work which is agreed with the Syrian Arab Republic’s government,” Lavrov stated.
What’s more alarming than the Pentagon’s outright disregard for Syrian sovereignty, however, is the willingness to engage in military actions that could very easily result in the taking of Russian soldier’s lives, put the world on the fast track to armed conflict between two military superpowers.
American officials reportedly didn’t inform the Russians of their intention to shoot down the Syrian craft, even though Russian planes were in the air nearby. For that reason, Russian officials say all aircraft entering areas where the country is assisting Syrian forces will be treated as military aggressors.
“In areas where Russian aviation is conducting combat missions in the Syrian skies, any flying ojects, including jets and unmanned aerial vehicles of the international coalition discovered west of the Euphrates River will be followed by Russian air and ground defenses as air targets,” the defense ministry said.
Joint Chiefs of Staff head Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told reporters earlier Monday that U.S. officials were in the midst of a “a delicate couple of hours” as they worked to reestablish deconfliction communications with Russia.
The situation is not delicate enough, evidently, to draw down on U.S. military intervention in Syria until communications are assured.
Col. Ryan Dillon, the top military spokesman in Baghdad, suggested that continuing U.S. flights in Syria are going to continue in areas where Russia is less active.
“As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrews given known threats in the battlespace,” he said.
And Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, seemed unaware that shooting down an aircraft belonging to a sovereign nation constitutes “conflict.” By his reckoning, any response to attacks on U.S. aircraft would be defensive.
“We are aware of the Russian statements,” he said, according to The Washington Examiner. “We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened.”
Most likely what we’re witnessing is the Pentagon’s best efforts to bait Russia into a full scale military conflict while maintaining enough deniability to announce to the American public that Russia is the aggressor.