WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tensions between the United States and Russia have again reached a fever pitch after a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian aircraft on Sunday, the first time in history a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian plane.
Responding to Russian threats to treat U.S.-led coalition planes flying in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, as targets, a Pentagon spokesperson said Monday that U.S. forces will not hesitate to respond to Russian acts of military aggression.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, in a statement to Russian news agencies, declared his outrage over the incident and compared the shoot down to “helping the terrorists that the U.S. is fighting against.”
“The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty,” said Ryabkov. “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.”
“What is this, if not an act of aggression,” he asked.
Ryabkov declared that in the wake of the incident, any safety nets between the U.S. and Russia are now off. A hotline, had been set up between Russia and the US to prevent mid-air collisions, has been suspended by Russian officials.
“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,” said Ryabkov, who stopped just short of saying that any U.S. planes entering the airspace would be shot down.
“We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened,” Capt. Jeff Davis said in response to Ryabkov’s comments Monday morning.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford echoed Davis’ comments while speaking on Monday at the National Press Club.
“I’m confident that we are still communicating between our operations center and the Russia federation operations center — and I’m also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves,” said Dunford.
In a separate statement, Department of Defense spokesperson Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said U.S. forces will continue conducting “operations throughout Syria, targeting ISIS forces and providing air support for Coalition partner forces on the ground.”
“As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian Regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to re-position aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrew given known threats in the battlespace,” Rankine-Galloway said.
Sunday’s conflict marked the first time in nearly two decades that U.S. forces have shot down an warplane in air-to-air combat.