Russia Vows to Target U.S.-Backed Aircraft in Western Syria

What’s a little war between friends? Photo: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS

There are lot of downsides to electing an amoral, xenophobic demagogue with a history of borrowing large sums of money from Russian banks and a (related?) fondness for Vladmir Putin.

But at least Trump’s victory allowed Americans to worry a bit less about the Syrian conflict becoming the prologue to a hot war between Moscow and Washington.

After all, you don’t need to believe that Donald Trump is more of a pacifist than Hillary Clinton to think that the latter was more likely to bring us into confrontation with the Kremlin. The Democratic nominee was a staunch advocate of establishing a “no-fly zone” in Syria — a proposal that would (almost certainly) require downing Russian planes to enforce. Further, her rhetoric about the Putin regime was consistently belligerent — and one reported contender for a top position in her administration publicly called for covertly targeting Russian soldiers in the Middle East.

So, if you were a single-issue “no war with Russia” voter, your best bet was the Putin puppet. Trump even made this pitch explicitly, warning late in his campaign, “Hillary wants to start a shooting war in Syria, in conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia, which could lead to World War III.”

Say what you want about President Trump — Lord knows, I’ve said a lot. But you can’t deny that his odd affection for Russian autocrats comes with the benefit of guaranteeing peace between the Cold War’s former adversaries. 

Now, to take a long sip of borscht and read the latest news about the Syrian Civil War from the Associates Press …

Russia’s defense ministry says it will treat U.S.-led coalition planes in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, as targets after the U.S. military shot down a Syrian Air Force jet on Sunday. Moscow has condemned the U.S. downing of the Syrian government fighter jet after it dropped bombs nears U.S. partner forces.

Here’s the backstory, per the Pentagon: A Syrian SU-22 dropped bombs on the Syrian Democratic Forces Sunday, even though said forces were focusing their fire on ISIS militants (rather than Assad’s forces) as part of a U.S.-backed campaign to retake the so-called Islamic State’s stronghold in Raqqa. 

To protect its allies in the fight against ISIS, the U.S. responded by dispatching an F-18 Super Hornet to take down the the Syrian fighter jet. The strike is believed to be America’s first “air-to-air kill” of a manned aircraft since the Kosovo campaign in 1999.

In response, Russia suspended coordination with the U.S. over so-called “de-confliction zones” in Syria — closing a channel that the two states had been using to avoid air-to-air conflicts between their respective forces. 

Shortly after that announcement, the Kremlin took matters a step farther.

“Any aircraft, including planes and drones belonging to the international coalition operating west of the Euphrates River, will be tracked by Russian anti-aircraft forces in the sky and on the ground and treated as targets,” the Russian defense ministry said.

As the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus notes, America’s direct engagement with Assad’s air force also threatens to bring our nation closer to war with Iran. 

The US has already attacked pro-government forces on the ground after they entered an exclusion zone designed to protect US personnel training and advising anti-government rebels near Syria’s border with Iraq. Now Washington is extending this protection to forces that it backs who are engaged in the offensive against Raqqa. These local, tactical steps inevitably could have strategic implications creating a further source of friction between Washington and Tehran. Iran’s focus is increasingly on the border region between Syria and Iraq. The struggle for control of this crucial territory is becoming ever more dangerous.

So, here we are: While other nations have to chose between displaying bizarre fealty to the Kremlin’s interests, and starting a war with Russia, America got itself a president who can do both.

Russia Vows to Target U.S.-Backed Aircrafts in Western Syria