Tensions between the United States and Russia continue to worsen, with the conflict in Syria serving as tinder to the fire.
On Sunday an American F/A-18 fighter shot down a Syrian Su-22 bomber which had targeted American-backed fighters in Syria. The incident was precipitated by Syrian government-backed ground troops attacking the American-backed fighters. U.S. warplanes “buzzed” the Syrian troops to force them to break off their attack. American commanders then called the Russian commanders in the region to attempt to de-escalate the situation. However, a couple hours later a Syrian Su-22 plane bombed positions near the American-backed troops. It was therefore shot down by the American F/A-18 in order to defend the American allies.
The next day, “Russia responded by saying its surface-to-air missile systems in Syria would begin to track manned and unmanned aircraft from the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition if they go west of the Euphrates River.” Thus, Russia is threatening to target U.S. aircraft who overfly Syrian government-held positions.
Also on Monday, an armed Russian Su-27 fighter approached within five feet of an American RC-135 reconnaissance plane in the Baltic Sea. This was the most dangerous of 35 similar incidents in the area since the beginning of June. It is also consistent with escalating Russian interceptions of U.S. aircraft in other regions, particularly the Black Sea and off the coast of Alaska.
On Tuesday, another incident occurred in Syria. An American F-15 shot down an armed Syrian-government drone which appeared to be advancing towards American-allied forces. A couple weeks previously, another armed drone was shot down by U.S. forces under similar circumstances.
Put it all together and Syria is a mess. Within the country are Americans, Russians, Syrian-government forces, American-backed Syrian militias, Russian-backed Syrian militias, Iranian-backed Syrian militias, Turkish forces, and ISIS forces. Broadly speaking, everyone is “battling ISIS.” However, the Turks do not want the Kurds to gain power. President Assad of Syria and his Russian allies want him to remain in power. The Syrian rebels want Assad gone. The U.S. wants Assad gone. It’s hard to determine just who is whose ally in this tangle of alliances.
The risk is high, therefore, that a miscalculation can lead to a greater conflict in the region or see U.S. and Russian forces engage in a direct confrontation which could quickly escalate. The emerging new “Cold War” between the U.S. and Russia could then get very hot.