On June 18, American armed forces shot down a Syrian warplane after reportedly seeing the jet drop bombs near a U.S.-backed coalition group that had been fighting an ISIS unit. The U.S. story contradicts that of that Syrian army, which claims the downed jet had been on a mission to fight ISIS militants. Russian officials are not happy either way.
U.S. Central Command said in a statement the jet was downed "in a collective self-defense of Coalition-partnered forces." The coalition-partnered forces were members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Reuters reports.
According to the statement, "pro-Syrian regime forces" had attacked and wounded some fighters in an SDF-held town. While a coalition-led aircraft was able to stop the initial advance, a Syrian army jet later dropped bombs near coalition forces. The U.S. responded by shooting down the aircraft.
The U.S. says it contacted Russian forces to "de-escalate the situation and stop the firing" before the attack.
The downing took place near Rasafah, a village in the Raqqa province, according to a television announcement issued by Syrian armed forces.
The announcement described the incident as a "flagrant attack" and "an attempt to undermine the efforts of the army as the only effective force capable with its allies ... in fighting terrorism across its territory."
The Syrian army added: "This comes at a time when the Syrian army and its allies were making clear advances in fighting the [ISIS] terrorist group."
Russian officials quickly denounced the actions of the U.S.
"This strike has to be seen as a continuation of America's line to disregard the norms of international law," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told journalists in Moscow, reported Russian state news agency TASS, according to Agence France-Presse.
"What is this if not an act of aggression?" Ryabkov continued. "It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the U.S. is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy."
Deputy chairman of the Russian Senate's defense committee Frants Klintsevich called the act a "blunt act of aggression and provocation."
"It is Russia that is being provoked most of all," Klintsevich said in a Facebook post. "It seems that the United States under Donald Trump is a source of danger for the Middle East and the whole world on a qualitatively new level."
On June 19, the Russian defense ministry said any U.S.-led coalition plane flying west of the Euphrates river in Syria would be treated as a possible target. It also said it will suspend a safety hotline used by both countries' militaries to prevent collisions in Syrian airspace.
This is not the first time that the Russian government has threatened to shut down the hotline. It made the same threat after President Trump ordered a missile attack on a Syrian air base in April. Use of the hotline had doubled by the following month.
The New York Times reports that American officials confirmed that both the U.S. and Russia had used the hotline on June 18. The officials did not want to be named due to the sensitive nature of the topic they were discussing.
Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Russian defense and security committee, implied that the Russian defense ministry’s actions were a warning.
“I’m sure that because of this neither the U.S. nor anyone else will take any actions to threaten our aircraft,” Ozerov told RIA Novosti, a state news agency. “That’s why there’s no threat of direct confrontation between Russia and American aircraft.”
Ozerov said Russia would track U.S.-backed jets but not shoot them down unless they took action against a Russian aircraft.