It's just a miracle that it took so much time - a year and a half - from the beginning of Russia's real intervention in the conflict in Syria, for an incident to occur that could lead to a clash between Russia and the United States. Luck ran out on June 18, when a US Air Force plane shot down a Syrian Air Force bomber, allegedly launching strikes against the US-backed Democratic Forces of Syria (DSS), Nikolas K. Gvosdev wrote in an article for The National Interest.
The Kremlin issued a carefully prepared reply with a warning that from now on Moscow would consider as hostile any aircraft flying over Syria without the explicit permission of official Damascus. More importantly, however, the fact that the Kremlin did not make promises to take concrete actions, because Russia does not want to draw a red line, for violation of which it will have to punish. This is perhaps connected, as experts point out, to the fact that Moscow does not have the necessary technical capacity to make good its threats.
Now, apparently, coalition aircraft are under constant surveillance by Russian air defense radar, thereby forcing US pilots to take risks when carrying out their missions. It also means that now the relationship between the US and Russia depends on the nerve and reaction of the dispatchers, and not on the plans and preferences of presidents and diplomats. What is happening also strongly resembles the plot of the post-apocalyptic novel "Alas, Babylon" of 1959, in which a nuclear war between superpowers begins due to a plane accidentally shot down over the Soviet base in Latakia.
The Pentagon, the author stresses, will be ready for this or that military development of events, but if we analyze the strategy of Russian President Vladimir Putin after the last major incident - an attack on the Russian bomber by Turkey in November 2015 - it becomes obvious that Putin never responds as he is expected to. At that time, the head of Russia avoided a direct military response that could lead have led to the application of Article 5 of NATO's charter, preferring an asymmetric response.
With a combination of skillful economic sanctions and clear signals about a possible change in Russia's position on the Kurdish issue, within six months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized. Therefore, in the case of continuing problems in Syria, Moscow may not want to directly challenge the potential of the US armed forces, but rather find ways to use other tools to complicate US life throughout the region. And given the prospect of new sanctions, Putin may find that he has nothing to lose from moving to a more confrontational policy with the United States.
In this connection one more question arises. If you listen to the numerous hearings held on the issue of Russia over the past few weeks, you can acquire some cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, Russia is represented as a mighty adversary capable of putting an end to the collective power of NATO, and on the other hand, as a regime on the verge of collapse subject to US pressure. Such an approach is connected with the risk that the confrontational attitude towards Russia can be held by Washington without proper preparation or determination on the part of the United States.
Thus, it is obvious that the initial goals of the administration of Donald Trump for the search for an agreement with the Kremlin can no longer be considered. It may be that the discrepancy between the interests and values of the United States and those of Russia is too great to be overcome by any number of compromises. If this is so, then the US needs to think carefully about its next moves and not be accidentally dragged into a skirmish with Russia, which Washington does not expect and is not preparing for, in the airspace over Syria.
Rambler June 21, 2017