The recent spike in aggressive behaviour from the Russian Air Force over Syria, coupled with the collision between a Russian fighter jet and a US Reaper drone in the Black Sea, suggests that tensions between the two countries have reached alarming levels.
While scuffles and standoffs between their forces in northeast Syria are not new, the recent developments have sparked concerns about the potential for an escalation in confrontation between the two sides. The deconfliction protocols between those troops need to be urgently reactivated to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control.
The US and Russian militaries have operated in an uneasy coexistence in Syria since the Kremlin sent forces there in 2015 to support the Syrian regime.
As for US troops, they were deployed to north-eastern Syria in 2014 to counter the Islamic State terrorist group in cooperation with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Around 900 soldiers and service members are still stationed in the country to help keep a potential resurgence of the militant group at bay.
Notably, the US and Russia set up communication channels in 2015 to prevent any clashes between each other in Syria.
However, the US forces have reportedly witnessed a significant increase in provacative behaviour by Russia's air force in Syria since 1 March. US military officials cited flights by armed Russian warplanes over US bases in the south-east and north-east of Syria as an example of the ongoing harassment of US forces in the region.
The officials also pointed out that Russian aircraft have become emboldened to act aggressively toward US bases in a manner not typical of an organised military force.
According to the commander of Air Forces Central, Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, Russia’s more aggressive posture appears to stem from the arrival of Russian commanders who had been involved in Moscow’s troubled invasion of Ukraine and are trying to make up for their poor performance there.