Relations between the west and Russia regarding Syria has always been both problematic and risky but it threatens to become even more dangerous following the shootdown of a Syrian Air Force Sukhoi Su-22 “Fitter” on Sunday. This has prompted Russian officials to describe American, British and French aircraft operating over the war-ravaged country as potential threats. In a statement, the Russian Defence Ministry said;
All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.
The US took the extraordinary action against the Syrian Air Force on Sunday when the Su-22 (right) reportedly carried out a strike in proximity to US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The Syrian jet was shot down by a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet and is the first such air-to-air engagement for the type. The US military’s Central Command said in a statement that the shootdown was carried out in accordance of all established rules of engagement and in accordance with terms agreed upon by coalition partners.
However, the Russian Defence Ministry disagrees saying that the US acted in violation of the agreed upon terms of the de-confliction deal both sides pledged to honour. They also claim that the US made no effort to communicate with them before taking the action against the Syrian jet, describing the shootdown as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The Syrian government themselves also claim that the Su-22 was bombing Islamic State forces, not Syrian Democratic Forces, and accused the US of actually helping the terrorist organisation.
The Russians have since suspended their direct line of communication with Washington over the incident leading to their stark warning to the US-led forces. In the last few hours, Downing Street has appealed to the Russians to return to the previously established de-confliction arrangement so as to avoid any future confrontation between coalition aircraft and Russian and Syrian government aircraft.
The Pentagon in Washington responded strongly to the Russian threats made against Coalition aircraft with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford telling reporters;
I’m confident that we are still communicating between our operations centre and the Russian Federation’s operations centre — and I’m also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves.
Under Operation: Shader, the Royal Air Force has been engaged in gathering intelligence and conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and neighbouring Iraq. Tornado GR.4 and Typhoon FGR.4 combat aircraft along with Reaper drones continue to fly operations over the region from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.