Close Calls or Worse Between U.S. and Russia in Syria

Last Sunday, a U.S. Navy F/A-18E fighter jet shot down a Syrian government SU-22 bomber in the U.S. military’s first air-to-air kill involving manned aircraft since the 1999 Kosovo campaign. In response, the Russian Ministry of Defense has condemned the incident as “a cynical violation of the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic” and shut down a hotline for military communication between Russian and U.S. forces in Syria. In a further escalation, the Kremlin has also announced that any U.S. planes flying west of the Euphrates river will now be considered “air targets” by Russian forces.

To some extent, Russia’s response to this incident can be read as typical diplomatic posturing. The U.S. cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase in response to Syrian chemical weapons attacks on the town of Khan Sheikhoun this April was a far more significant attack, and though it drew condemnation from Moscow, the heated rhetoric soon cooled. However, the destruction of the Syrian jet – which was bombing U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) units in western Raqqa – does emphasize how dangerous the situation in eastern Syria has become.

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