Russia to treat US jets in Syria as ‘targets’ after America guns down first regime warplane
Communication channel between Washington and Moscow to be suspended immediately
Russia has said it will treat US warplanes operating in parts of Syria where its air forces are also present as “targets” amid a diplomatic row caused by the downing of a Syrian jet.
The country’s defence ministry said it would track US-led coalition aircraft with missile systems and military aircraft, but stopped short of saying it would shoot them down.
A hotline set up between Russia and the US to prevent mid-air collisions will also be suspended.
“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 Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement.
The warning comes after a US F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian army SU-22 jet on Sunday in the countryside southwest of Raqqa – the first such downing of a Syrian jet by the US since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011.
Washington said the jet had dropped bombs near US-backed forces but Damascus said the plane was downed while flying a mission against Isis militants.
Russia’s defence ministry said the suspension of its communication line with the Americans would begin immediately.
The US did not use its hotline with Russia ahead of the downing of the Syrian government warplane, said the ministry, which accused the US of a “deliberate failure to make good on its commitments” under the deconfliction deal.
“The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty,” the ministry said.
“The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-country are a flagrant violation of international law and an actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.”
Theresa May appealed to Russia to continue the use of “deconfliction” measures over the skies of Syria to reduce the risk of misunderstandings in what is a crowded airspace.
Russia, which has been providing air cover for Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, since 2015, has an agreement with the US aimed at preventing incidents involving either country’s warplanes engaged in operations in Syria.
Downing the jet was akin to “helping the terrorists that the US is fighting against”, Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said.
A statement released by US Central Command on Sunday said the Syrian jet was “immediately shot down… in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of Coalition partnered forces”.
“The Coalition’s mission is to defeat Isis 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,” it added.
“The Coalition presence in Syria addresses the imminent threat Isis in Syria poses globally. The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward Coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-Isis operations will not be tolerated.”