MOSCOW — Russia said on Monday it would treat all U.S. coalition aircraft west of the Euphrates river in Syria as “airborne targets” after a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane.
The statement from the Russian Defense Ministry stopped short of threatening to attack such U.S. aircraft.
The ministry also announced that it was ending cooperation on a U.S.-Russian agreement that had been designed to prevent a direct conflict between the two powers in Syria.
“Repeated military actions by U.S. aircraft against the lawful armed forces of a United Nations member state, under the guise of a ‘fight against terrorism,’ are a profound violation of international law and, in fact, military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in an emailed statement.
The U.S. stressed it was working to address Russia’s concerns and keep lines of communication open.
Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford, said links between the U.S. and Russian militaries designed to prevent inadvertent clashes over Syria have been effective over recent months and had continued as of Monday morning.
He would not specifically address Russia’s threat, except to say, “we will work diplomatically and militarily in the coming hours to re-establish deconfliction.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for U.S. forces in the region said the military was taking “prudent measures to reposition our aircraft over Syria,” while continuing operations against Islamic State targets.
The White House warned that the U.S. maintains its right of self defense and the U.S. would do what it can to protect its interests.
The Syrian Defense Ministry said the Syrian plane was destroyed and the fate of the pilot unknown.
Russia, which entered the Syrian civil war in 2015 to support the beleaguered regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally, has long claimed that the U.S. involvement in the war without the regime’s permission violates international law.
The U.S., which provides air support to rebel forces on the ground battling the Islamic State, has accused al-Assad’s regime of committing crimes against humanity, including killing civilians.
The U.S. said that on Sunday a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter jet shot down a Syrian regime Su-22.
It was the first time in the six-year-old war that the U.S. downed a Syrian jet, sparking fears of wider escalation between opposing sides.
A Syrian military source told dpa that the Syrian army rescued the pilot.
Syria denounced the downing of of its aircraft and warned of repercussions, the state-run Syrian news agency SANA reported.
“The Syrian Arab Republic warns against the repercussions of this criminal act on counterterrorism efforts and that such attacks will not discourage Syria, and in particular its brave army, from continuing the war [against terrorist groups],” SANA said, citing a foreign ministry statement.
The Su-22, a Russian-made warplane, had attacked a town held by the U.S. coalition-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces, “wounding a number of SDF fighters and driving the SDF from the town,” the U.S. coalition said.
The U.S. coalition, whose mission is to defeat the terrorist group Islamic State, “does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat,” the U.S. coalition said.