The United States turned the tables on Russia this week, accusing them of intentionally violating an agreement intended to maintain the peace between the two military powers over Syria.
“Russia is failing to genuinely de-conflict airspace in Syria. Some of these incidents are not mistakes,” Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana W. White told reporters on Monday. “We are working to address this issue at the highest levels,” she added.
For months now, the Russian government has levied unsubstantiated accusations at the U.S. military in Syria, claiming American forces have been aiding the Islamic State, despite actively working to combat them in neighboring Iraq. On two occasions in recent weeks, Russian officials had their misinformation efforts in this regard exposed: the first after the Russian Foreign Ministry tried to pass video game footage off as “evidence” of their claims, and the second when their account of an engagement between a Russian Su-35 and an American F-22 proved to be fictitious.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis also weighed in on the frequency of Russian jets crossing over the Euphrates River in Syria, which serves as the de-confliction line between U.S. and Russian-backed forces within the embattled nation. Russia has been providing military support to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while U.S. forces have been backing militant groups in the fight against ISIS. Once not engaged in the war on terror, Assad’s regime and those groups have been embroiled in a bloody civil war.
“I don’t expect perfection, but I don’t expect dangerous maneuvers, either,” Mattis told reporters. “We’ll sort this out but right now, I cannot tell you if it’s sloppy airmanship, or a rambunctious pilot, or people who are trying to do something that was very unwise,” Mattis said.
Last week, immediately following Russia’s false account of a Su-35 intercepting an American F-22 on the Russian side of the Euphrates, two American F-22s intercepted two Russian Su-25 close air support jets as they crossed into U.S. protected airspace.
“One Su-25 flew close enough to an F-22A that it had to aggressively maneuver to avoid a midair collision,” U.S. Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told CNN last week, saying the U.S. planes conducted multiple maneuvers, released chaff and flares, and made “multiple calls on the emergency channel to convey to the Russian pilots that they needed to depart the area.”
This was far from an isolated incident. Numerous defense officials have stated that Russian jets routinely violate de-conflicted airspace, which was put into place after U.S. fighters had to shoot down a Syrian Su-22 in June that was dropping munitions on U.S.-backed fighters.
“Since agreeing to this de-confliction arrangement, the Russians have flown into our airspace on the east side of the river 6-8 times per day, or approximately 10% of the Russian and Syrian flights,” Pickart said.
After a slew of Russian claims that it was the United States violating this de-confliction line, the Russian government adopted a slightly different posture to America’s allegations. According to Russian officials, not only are they not doing anything wrong, but the United States shouldn’t be there in the first place.
“The Russian military are present in Syria absolutely legitimately, in full compliance with the norms and principles of international law, as for the U.S. armed forces, they are there without any international legal grounds,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Image courtesy of the Russian Ministry of Defense