As if worries had not already existed that some inadvertent confrontation or action between the United States and Russia in the skies over Syria might set off World War 3, it was announced last week that Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilots had been given the green light to shoot down “hostile” Russian aircraft in Syria. The problem with the report and subsequent derivative media stories posted afterward was that, according to British authorities, it was “inaccurate.”
The Times reported the day after the original article, published in the Sunday Times, that Russia, alarmed at the aggressive order, called for a meeting with Britain’s military attache to provide clarification on the reported order to shoot down Russian jets that were deemed hostile during RAF missions. Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador in London, said he “urgently requested explanations” from the British Foreign Office.
The British diplomat was asked “to provide an official explanation” of media reports, such as that posted by Business Insider, that RAF Tornados flying missions out of Iraq had being fitted with Asraam missiles, heat-seeking weapons that are designed for aerial combat. The Foreign Office, for its part, maintained that the reports had been “inaccurate” but in the meeting with the Russian Ministry of Defense, Britain reiterated its concerns with Russia’s role in the Syrian civil war.
Russia entered the Syrian conflict last September, stepping in to bolster the beleaguered regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whose government forces had steadily lost up to roughly two-thirds of the country to Syrian rebels in the then four years of civil war. Concerns that U.S. fighters, or war planes of its allies in the coalition fighting the Islamic State (which was a secondary consideration for Russia to grant Syria’s official request for military aid), might accidentally engage Russian aircraft was voiced even then, prompting military experts to call for the coordinating of flight plans between all parties in the region. Both major players — the U.S. and Russia — have since voiced complaints as to each other’s obstinant aversion to cooperating in this regard.
As for close calls and confrontations, Turkey, which is a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) signatory, shot down a Russian war plane in November. As was reported by CNN, Russia claimed Turkey had shot the plane down while it was still in Syrian airspace. Turkey, however, countered by stating that it had warned off the Russian jet ten times before opening fire and shooting it down. Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been tense ever since.
Informed of the downing of the Russian jet, NATO called an emergency meeting and supported Turkey’s claim. As a mutual defense organization, the members of NATO recognize that an attack against one member is an attack against them all.
At the time, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called for “calm and de-escalation” of the situation, but he was quick to point out how Russian forces had a history of closely approaching the borders of allied NATO nations.
“I have previously expressed my concern about the implications of the military actions of the Russian Federation close to NATO’s borders,” he said. “This highlights the importance of having and respecting arrangements to avoid such incidents in the future.”
But inaccurate or misrepresented reports can lead to needless diplomatic confrontations, where saber-rattling is already at a premium, with Russia and the U.S. constantly making statements of readiness to defend the latest perceived affront by the other. Misunderstandings can lead to heightened tensions. And with the increased militarization of Russia in the past decade, not to mention the enormous increase in military drills (a matter the European Leadership Network deemed worrisome to the point of issuing a warning — per Vice News — that increased maneuverings and exercises were more likely to generate close calls or actual confrontations that could prompt a multi-national war), tensions between NATO and Russia have been growing.
The “inaccurate” reporting came as the U.S. and Russia broke off Syrian cease-fire talks and Russia, as was reported by the Inquisitr, formally withdrew from a nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty with the U.S. The question is: If the inaccuracy led to Russia reciprocating with a like inaccurate order to its pilots, how much more difficult would it be for all parties concerned to remain calm and find a way to de-escalate what could easily become the first reactions to an incident that will later be labeled the start of World War 3?
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