RUSSIA MONITOR

Date: 21 June 2017

A Clash in Syria

Recent US attacks at the allies of Russia in Syria have increased tension between Washington and Moscow. It should be expected that the growing engagement of the United States in the war with the Islamic State in Syria will lead to more frequent attacks of regime and Iran linked forces against the US targets, and first of all against the US allies. At the same time, no serious threat seems to exist of direct confrontation between the US and Russia in Syria, but the tense situation encourages the Washington supporters of more severe sanctions against Russia.


© ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH PAP_EPA

On June 20, US forces in Syria shot down an Iranian-made drone, operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The drone was controlled from the Corps control station, located near Hama. Shooting down of the drone was the fifth incident in recent weeks when Americans attacked troops fighting for Assad. On June 18, US navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, performing a mission of international anti ISIS coalition, shoot down a Syrian Su-22 aircraft in the Ar-Raqqa province. According to Moscow, which has recently criticized US sharply for this action, the Americans failed to use communication channels with Russia before shooting the aircraft. Previous three incidents took place nearby the Al-Tanf base in south-eastern Syria, where Americans are training rebel fighters from SDF coalition. On May 18, US conducted air strikes on pro-government Shia militia supported by Iran, when the militia were approaching the training facility. On June 6, another such air strike took place. On June 8, Americans shot down an armed drone after it fired towards SDF troops.

The most significant event, however, was the above-mentioned shooting down of the government aircraft. Moscow reacted very sharply. On June 19, Russian defense ministry announced the suspension of the agreement with the US preventing incidents in Syrian airspace. Any foreign object flying above the areas of Syria where Russian forces are operating will be treated as a target – Russia added. Chief or Russian diplomacy, Sergey Lavrov, stated that the United States should respect Syria’s territorial integrity and should not take unilateral actions in Syria. His deputy Sergey Ryabkov declared that shooting down of the Syrian machine was „an act of aggression that helps the terrorists”. According to Syrian military, the aircraft was carrying out a war mission against jihadists from Islamic State. Sean Spicer, press secretary of the White House, responded to Russian threats on June 19, with the following statement: „we’re going to do all that we can to protect our interests”. Americans claim that they have shot down the government aircraft because it was attacking Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an Arab-Kurd coalition combating the IS in Syria. SDF accused the government army of recently bombarding their troops in the area to the south west of the Ar-Raqqa province. In the beginning of June, SDF started an assault on a city considered to be the Islamic State capital in Syria.

It appears that Russian threats will most likely remain just threats. This was the case when Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft in November 2015. Moscow will not risk entering an open conflict with the US in Syria. Instead, Russia-driven attacks of pro-government and pro-Iran forces on American troops, and especially on SDF troops, can be expected.

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