Russia threatens to target U.S. jets

Stepan Kravchenko and Ilya Arkhipov
Bloomberg News

Russia warned that it may treat U.S.-led coalition aircraft over Syria as targets following the shooting down of a Syrian government warplane, in an escalation of rhetoric between the two rivals in the Middle East conflict.

The downing of the aircraft was “a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in an emailed statement on Monday. In response, “Russia’s ground and air defenses will track any air targets, including the international coalition’s planes and drones, found to the West of the Euphrates river,” the Ministry said, adding that it is halting the so-called deconfliction coordination with the U.S. aimed at averting air incidents.

The Su-22 jet was shot down Sunday by a U.S. F-18 fighter as an act of “collective self-defense of coalition-partnered forces” after the Syrian aircraft dropped bombs close to American-backed fighters near the northern Syrian town of Tabqah, according to a U.S.-led coalition statement. “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 said.

The Defense Ministry statement doesn’t mean there’ll be war with the U.S., though it’s a “pretty serious” signal that Russia won’t accept acts of aggression against Syria, said Frants Klintsevich, deputy head of the defense committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament. The U.S. is “tough when nobody touches them, but immediately become normal people after getting slapped in the face,” he said.

Russia first halted the deconfliction agreement in April after the U.S. carried out airstrikes on Syrian targets. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu later said that the mechanism to avert conflict in the skies between Russian and U.S.-led forces continues to operate despite a formal end to the pact.