MOSCOW, Russia - Even as American investigators try to ascertain what role Russia played in the U.S. Presidential Elections of 2016 - Moscow is growing increasingly impatient with U.s. actions in Syria.
On Monday, Russia angrily condemned the downing of a Syrian aircraft by a U.S. fighter, calling it a “flagrant violation of international law.”
It further went onto warn that Russian forces will treat U.S.-led coalition aircraft and drones as targets if they operate in Syrian airspace west of the Euphrates while Russian aviation is on combat missions.
In a statement, the Russian Defense Ministry also said it is suspending an agreement to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between Russian and U.S.-led coalition aircraft operating over Syria.
Russia’s reaction came after the U.S. military confirmed on Sunday, that a U.S. F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 fighter-bomber.
According to reports, the Syrian jet had just dropped bombs near members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, a militia aligned with the U.S. military in the campaign against the Islamic State.
The SDF issued a statement on Monday, warning that it would retaliate in the face of further aggression from pro-Assad forces.
The ongoing clash between Russia, that has provided military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2015 and U.S. led coalition forces in the region has raised the possibility that the United States could be forced to deviate further from its stated policy in Syria, which only involves targeting Islamic State militants.
In its statement, the Russian Defense Ministry argued that its warplanes had been operating in the area of the encounter between the U.S. and Syrian jets.
The ministry said the coalition had not used the deconflicting hotline to warn Russian forces.
Adding, “Multiple military actions of U.S. aviation under the guise of fighting terrorism against the legal military of a state that is a member of the United Nations are flagrant violation of international law and constitute de facto military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic. We view these actions by the American command as a conscious failure to uphold their responsibilities within the memorandum.”
The confrontational relationship first came to light more prominently in April this year, after Russia briefly suspended the 2015 memorandum of understanding on the air operations after U.S. forces fired Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base, following a chemical weapon attack in Syria, that the West blamed on Assad’s government.
Meanwhile, on Monday, a senior Russian diplomat warned that the downing of the Syrian jet was “yet another step in a direct and dangerous escalation.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency, “We are warning Washington not to take such actions in the future.”
In the incident on Sunday, hours after Syrian government forces harassed a U.S.-backed local ground force with airstrikes, the American military, for the first time during the six-year conflict, shot down a Syrian warplane.
The confrontation took place near the northern city of Tabqa and follows a series of U.S. airstrikes against Iran-backed forces advancing on partner forces in a strategically prized swath of land along the Iraqi border.
Nicholas A. Heras, a fellow at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security said in a statement, “The wild card here is the logic of an Assad regime which has decided that it no longer wants to be constrained to a Western Syria-based statelet.”
Some observers were quoted as saying that Sunday’s strike underscored a growing willingness on the part of Assad’s forces to confront the U.S.-led coalition as they jostle to roll back Islamic State militants from eastern Syria.
In the process, thousands of Shiite militiamen, who had fought in a campaign across the border to capture the city of Mosul, were freed from Islamic State militants.
Heras added that that shift has been driven by an assessment that the Trump administration could use the territory its forces capture as a bargaining chip with which to push Assad into a political transition or Syria into a decentralised political system.
Officials in Moscow meanwhile believed that Sunday’s shoot-down was intended as a message aimed squarely at them.
Franz Klintsevich, deputy head of the defense and security committee of the Russian upper house of parliament, called the incident “an aggression and a provocation” directed at Russia.
Klintsevich wrote on his Facebook page, “It looks like Donald Trump’s United States is a source of a brand-new danger both in the Middle East and the world at large.”
Meanwhile, another member of the upper house, Alexei Pushkov, tweeted that the incident was “a new act of war” against the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, Russia’s top diplomat, the country’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov said the United States should respect Syria’s territorial integrity and that any actions on the ground “should be coordinated with Damascus.”
The official Russian Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as saying at a meeting with the foreign ministers of Brazil, India and China in Beijing, “We call on the United States and all others who have their forces or their advisers ‘on the ground’ to ensure coordination in our work.”
Last week, Putin said that Syria has proved to be a useful testing ground for advanced Russian weapons systems.
Addressing Russians in his annual televised call-in show, Putin said, “It has done enormous good for our defense industry. I can say that the experience our armed forces have gained under combat conditions, especially with the use of cutting-edge weapons, is invaluable.”