US Central Command spokesman Joe Buccino has alleged that Russian pilots deliberately instigated confrontations with American jets in Syrian airspace. Buccino’s statement suggests that the Russian pilots engaged in aggressive behavior to provoke the US jets. The incident highlights the ongoing tensions between the two nations in the region.
According to statements from US officials cited by American media, Russian pilots did not appear to have the intention to shoot down a US plane during a recent incident, but they may have been seeking to incite a provocative scenario in order to involve the US in an international altercation.
On April 2, the US Central Command released footage showing a Russian Su-35 fighter jet engaging in an intercept of an American F-16 fighter, which was deemed to be both “unsafe and unprofessional.” On April 18, another video was released showing a Russian fighter jet entering airspace used by coalition forces and approaching a US aircraft to within a distance of approximately 600 meters – a span of time that can be traversed by a fighter in mere seconds.
US officials have initiated contact with their Russian counterparts to address recent incidents that Russia has denied involvement in. In an effort to avoid unintended escalation of geopolitical tensions, the US has used the de-confliction line to communicate with Russia’s military in Syria over the past few years. However, a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that Russian jets have violated the de-confliction boundary 85 times since the beginning of March, including flying too close to coalition bases. Additionally, 26 instances were recorded of Russian armed jets flying over US and allied positions in Syria. Despite the provocations, the official noted that US pilots refrained from engaging in air combat and remained within the agreed-upon de-confliction line.
Outside of Syria, Russian pilots engaged in similar behavior when a Russian Su-27 fighter jet collided with an American MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea in March. The collision damaged the drone’s propulsion, forcing it to crash into the water. The US has labeled the incident as unsafe, unprofessional, and reckless.