US-led coalition aircraft may be targeted, warns Russia
Moscow condemns shooting-down of Syrian air force jet
F18 Super Hornet: the Pentagon says one shot down a Syrian government fighter jet shortly after the Syrians bombed US-backed fighters in northern Syria on June 18th. Photograph: Jake Cannady/US Department of Defence
Warplanes from the US-led coalition operating over Syrian government-controlled areas west of the Euphrates river will be tracked as potential targets, Russia’s defence ministry said, a day after the US military shot down a Syrian air force jet.
Moscow condemned the downing of the Syrian jet after it dropped bombs near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that are fighting Islamic State, also known as Isis, in Syria’s increasingly complicated civil war.
The downing of the warplane – the first time in the conflict that the US has shot down a Syrian jet – came as Iran fired several ballistic missiles at Isis positions in eastern Syria in retaliation for two attacks by the extremists in Tehran earlier this month that killed 17 people.
Areas of northern Syria west of the Euphrates were controlled by Isis before Syrian government forces captured most of them in recent months.
The Russians appear to want to avoid further US targeting of Syrian warplanes or ground troops that have come under US attack in eastern Syria recently.
Moscow also called on the US military to provide a full account of why it decided to shoot down the Syrian Su22.
Russia, a key ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, has been providing air cover to the government’s offensive since 2015.
But in April, Russia briefly suspended a hotline intended to prevent mid-air incidents with the US over Syria after the American military fired 59 missiles at a Syrian air base following a chemical weapons attack that Washington blamed on the Assad government.
‘Helping the terrorists’
The US military confirmed that one of its F18 Super Hornets shot down a Syrian Su22 that had dropped bombs near the SDF.
Those forces, which are aligned with the US in the campaign against Isis, warned Syrian government troops to stop their attacks or face retaliation.
In comments to Russian news agencies, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov compared the downing to “helping the terrorists that the US is fighting against”.
“What is this, if not an act of aggression?” he asked.
Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the defence and security committee at the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, described the defence ministry’s statement as a warning.
“I’m sure that because of this, neither the US nor anyone else will take any actions to threaten our aircraft,” he told the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. “That’s why there’s no threat of direct confrontation between Russia and American aircraft.”
Mr Ozerov insisted that Russia will be tracking the coalition’s jets, not shooting them down, but he added that “a threat for those jets may appear only if they take action that poses a threat to Russian aircraft”.
Meanwhile, the US-backed opposition fighters said Mr Assad’s forces have been attacking them in the northern province of Raqqa and warned that if such attacks continue, the fighters would take action.
Clashes between Syrian troops and the SDF would escalate tensions and open a new front line in the many complex battlefields of the civil war, now in its seventh year. – (AP)