U.S. and Russia Agree on Rules to Avoid Mid-Air Collisions over Syria
Moscow and Washington sign deal to try to lower the risk of a collision in the skies over Syria as both sides carry out bombing raids
The United States and Russia have agreed on rules to minimize the risk of mid-air collisions between American and Russian warplanes carrying out bombing raids over Syria, but Washington insisted the deal did not involve any sharing of intelligence on targets.
Nor does it “constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia’s policy or actions in Syria,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Tuesday.
The agreement follows a number of incidents in which the Pentagon said Russian aircraft came dangerously close to U.S. military planes, including drones, in the skies over Syria. In one video posted recently online, a Russian fighter jet flies near what appears to be an American Reaper drone.
The deal was announced Tuesday as Russian fighter jets supported a major offensive by the Syrian army — with assistance from Iranian allies and Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militia – near the northern city of Aleppo. The new assault has reportedly displaced thousands of Syrian civilians, exacerbating a refugee crisis that has overwhelmed neighboring countries and European states.
The memorandum between Russia and the United States sets out safety protocols for air crews from both countries, and calls for “maintaining professional airmanship at all times, the use of specific communication frequencies and the establishment of a communication line on the ground,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.
Cook did not offer more details about the designated communication line on the ground, and said Moscow had requested the text of the memo be kept secret.
He said the agreement, negotiated over about two weeks and signed for the American side by Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, did not set up zones of cooperation, intelligence sharing, or any exchange of target information in Syria.
The United States has denounced Russia’s intervention in Syria, saying Moscow has been mostly hitting opponents of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and not the Islamic State.
Russia’s defense ministry, however, hailed the memo as “a positive step” and said it carried “considerable practical importance.”
“Upon its entry into force, this agreement will ensure establishing lines of 24-hour operational communication between the military headquarters of Russia and the United States and mechanisms of interaction, including provision of mutual assistance in case of emergency,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
Russia also said it had proposed the two sides work out plans for joint search-and-rescue operations for downed pilots and for sharing targeting details for Islamic State militants — but that Washington had rejected the idea.
Moscow had hoped for a more “substantial agreement” that would have deepened cooperation between the two sides, the defense ministry’s statement said.
Photo credit: Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images