Tensions Escalate Over Shoot-down of Syrian Jet

The Russian Ministry of Defense is calling yesterday’s downing of a Syrian military plane “a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty” as well as “a deliberate default on their [the US Coalition’s] obligations under the memorandum on on preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria signed on October 20, 2015.”

As I reported yesterday, US Coalition forces–who are in Syria illegally–shot down a Syrian plane over Raqqa province. The Syrians say their aircraft was carrying out a bombing attack against ISIS. The Coalition claim is that the attack was against US-backed forces.

Russia has now denounced the shoot-down and broken off a communication channel with the US that established in 2015 to try and prevent incidents in Syrian skies.

From the Russian news agency Tass:

“As of June 19 this year, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has ended its interaction with the US side under a memorandum for preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria and demands that the US command carry out a careful investigation and report about its results and the measures taken,” the statement reads.

“The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic,” the ministry said.

Russia will regard any flights within the area of its air force group’s operation in Syria as legitimate targets, the ministry stressed.  

“Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets,” the report said.

The ministry explained the reasons for suspending the memorandum. According to the ministry, at the moment the Syrian warplane was hit by the US fighter, Russia’s Aerospace Forces were carrying out missions in Syria’s airspace; “However, the coalition command did not use the existing communication line between the air commands of Al Udeid Air Base (Qatar) and Khmeimim Air Base to prevent incidents in Syria’s airspace.”

The story also reports that the Syrian plane was providing air cover for government troops which were mounting an offensive against ISIS terrorists near the city of Resafa. After the plane was hit, the pilot ejected. His fate is as yet unknown.

Syrian Army Captures Strategic Crossroad Town Of Resafa In Raqqah Province (Map)

Click the map 

Here is what the New York Times is reporting, referring to the conflict erroneously as a “civil war”:

Russia on Monday condemned the American military’s downing of a Syrian warplane, suspending the use of a military hotline that Washington and Moscow have used to avoid collisions in Syrian airspace and threatening to target aircraft flown by the United States and its allies over Syria.

The moves were the most recent example of an intensifying clash of words and interests between the two powers, which support different sides in the yearslong war in Syria.

The Russian military has threatened to halt its use of the hotline in the past — notably after President Trump ordered the launch of missiles against a Syrian air base in April — only to continue and even expand its contacts with the United States military. It was not clear whether the latest suspension would be lasting.

Its announcement came in response to an American F/A-18 jet’s shooting down a Syrian government warplane south of the town of Tabqah on Sunday, after the Syrian aircraft dropped bombs near local ground forces supported by the United States. It was the first time the American military had downed a Syrian plane since the civil war began in the country in 2011.

The article also includes a quote from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, who describes the current tensions as “a delicate couple of hours.”

“This is a delicate couple of hours,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday just before speaking at a luncheon in Washington. He said that he had no plans to immediately call his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, while the American military was still determining facts on the ground, but that he would talk to him “in time.”

Infantile discussion of the issue aired on CNN yesterday–includes no mention of the fact that US forces are in Syria illegally, no acknowledgement of the fact that the US goal has been regime change, rather than fighting terrorism. No mention also of the fact that the US is supporting “opposition forces” who are waging an armed rebellion against the democratically elected government.

Whether Russia will begin viewing Coalition forces as legitimate “targets” I guess remains to be seen. I’m not sure how much longer Vladimir Putin’s patience will last, but maybe it will remain intact through the present situation.

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