Keeping track of the various sides in the Syrian conflict has been problematic. Much of this stems from the fact there are more than two sides and several conflicting objectives. For example, just because two of the belligerents in the conflict agree that ISIS needs to be destroyed does not mean that they have the same view of other participants.
As a result it is quite possible, in fact probable, that two nations that were allies could be drawn into conflict with each other. While those of us in America might prefer to see conflicts in simpler terms, this sort of shifting alliances is not an unusual situation in the Middle East.
The latest test of nations’ patience with each other has come in the form of Russia informing the US that it has discontinued communications designed to coordinate military air operations between the two countries, and that it will track US military aircraft operating in the same areas of Syria as is Russia.
“Russia has said it will treat US warplanes operating in parts of Syria where its air forces are also present as ‘targets’ amid a diplomatic row caused by the downing of a Syrian jet.
“The country’s defense ministry said it would track US-led coalition aircraft with missile systems and military aircraft, but stopped short of saying it would shoot them down.
“A hotline set up between Russia and the US to prevent mid-air collisions will also be suspended.”
This is a ratcheting up of tensions, not a declaration of war. Note that Russia has only said that it will track US military aircraft, not that it would attempt to shoot them down which would take things in a far more serious direction.
Note the wording: “‘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,’ the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement.”
In fact, other than cutting off the hotline, this really doesn’t mean a whole lot, as we can be quite sure that the Russians have been tracking US aircraft in Syria, as well as those of every other participant since Russia got there. It’s basically a way of expressing Russia’s deep displeasure with the US downing of a Syrian military plane.
Here’s where the disputes over which side is fighting which come in.
“The warning comes after a US F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian army SU-22 jet on Sunday in the countryside southwest of Raqqa – the first such downing of a Syrian jet by the US since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011.
“Washington said the jet had dropped bombs near US-backed forces but Damascus said the plane was downed while flying a mission against Isis militants.“
What we have here is significant in that it confirms that the US and Russia are at odds over military policy and goals in Syria, something we’ve been aware of for some time. And it indicates that tensions between the US and Russia are increasing, never a desirable situation.
While not necessarily a prelude to hostilities between the US and Russia, it is one more complication that is not helpful, and it may set the stage for an accidental shoot-down of a US or Russian airplane. Then things could get very interesting very quickly.
Source: Independent UK