In a recent press statement on Saturday, President Vladimir Putin of Russia expressed heightened concerns regarding the possibility of escalating tensions and potential clashes with the United States over Syria. While emphasizing that Russia does not seek direct military confrontation with the U.S., he asserted that his country is prepared for any scenario that may arise in the region.
The situation in Syria has become increasingly precarious, with near-miss encounters between Russian fighter jets and American MQ-9 Reaper drones causing actual damage to U.S. drones in some instances. These incidents, observed this summer, involve Russian warplanes using flares or possibly dumping fuel to hinder the operation of the American drones. The Pentagon confirmed that the drones could be damaged by such actions.
Responding to questions about the incidents, President Putin reiterated Russia's readiness for any potential scenario but underscored the mutual desire to avoid clashes. To prevent conflicts and reduce the risk of inadvertent escalation, a military-to-military contact hotline was established on the initiative of the US. This allows department heads from both sides to communicate directly and consult on crisis situations.
Both Russia and the United States have accused each other of "unsafe" and "irresponsible" aerial operations over Syria. The Russian military reported 23 dangerous incidents involving its aircraft and those of the U.S.-led coalition since early 2023, with most of them occurring in July. Russian pilots have claimed to be targeted by Western weapon systems, resulting in automatic engagement of onboard defense systems releasing decoy flares.
The complexity of the situation in Syria is further compounded by the backdrop of the ongoing Ukraine war. Tensions between the nuclear-armed superpowers add to the risk of a potential direct conflict in the region. President Putin's recent comments are perceived as a warning directed not only against the U.S. but also against NATO in the context of both Syria and Ukraine, as reported by Russian media.
While the U.S. has justified its military actions in Syria as countering ISIS, the group has largely been defeated. Russia and Syria have accused the U.S. of attempting to control Syria's valuable oil and gas resources, suggesting an economic war against Damascus.
The Wall Street Journal recently acknowledged that the remaining 900 U.S. troops in Syria are primarily focused on assisting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in countering the remnants of ISIS, particularly in the eastern regions, far from the jihadist-infested Idlib province in the northwest.