How they see us: Escalating the violence in Syria
Is the U.S. trying to provoke a war with Russia? asked Anastasia Vlasova in Moskovsky Komsomolets (Russia). An American F-18 fighter jet shot down a Syrian government Su-22 warplane this week; the Pentagon claimed the aircraft had bombed U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters battling ISIS in northern Syria. This attack was an outrageous violation of Syria’s sovereignty and a clear escalation of U.S. involvement in the civil war. But it didn’t come out of nowhere: Several times in recent months, U.S. warplanes have bombed the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—a key Russian ally—supposedly because they were getting too close to U.S. commando bases. “It is clear that there is no justification here about any kind of defense,” said Russian lawmaker Franz Klintsevich. “It was open aggression, meant, above all, to provoke Russia.”
This isn’t normal, said Nikita Kovalenko in Vzglyad Delovaya Gazeta. The Su-22 was the first manned aircraft destroyed in air combat by the Americans since the Yugoslav wars—the “last U.S. trophy” was a Serbian MiG-29, shot down in 1999 during the Kosovo conflict. In response to the latest downing, Moscow is cutting a hotline it set up with the U.S. to help prevent midair incidents over Syria. Russia will now treat any aircraft, including U.S. warplanes and drones, found west of the Euphrates as hostile. The Americans had already all but severed that hotline, said Alexei Nikolsky in Vedomosti. Our defense ministry says that when the Syrian plane was shot down, Russian aircraft were operating in the area. Yet contrary to the Pentagon’s claims, the U.S. air command failed to contact its Russian counterpart using the special communications channel—something required under the 2015 agreement that set up the hotline. Officials in Moscow now say the U.S. has shown its true hand: In “a gross violation of international law,” it is waging an undeclared, aggressive war against the sovereign nation of Syria “under the guise of fighting terrorists.”
For the U.S., Syria is just another battlefield on which to fight Iran, said Dmitry Nersesov in Pravda. The Americans know that Assad is a crucial partner for Iran, and that Tehran will be even more isolated in the region if he falls. It is telling that many of the pro-Assad ground forces targeted by the U.S. in recent months have been Iranian-backed militias. But Iran is also eager “to battle the Great Satan” and boost its global influence. Tehran escalated its involvement in the war this week by striking the ISIS-held Syrian town of Deir ez-Zor with a ballistic missile, in retaliation for the jihadist group’s recent terrorist attacks in Tehran, which killed 17 people. Iran considers ISIS an agent of the U.S., perhaps not without reason, and more operations will surely follow. Russia now faces a dilemma. Does it back away from the conflict, effectively ceding its only Mediterranean base in Syria? Or does it take sides with Iran—and risk a global conflict with the U.S.?