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6/21/17

Middle East - Syria: Are US and Russia inching toward confrontation in Syria?

When a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Russian-made Syrian SU-22 warplane after it reportedly attacked US-supported fighters near the embattled city of Raqqa, it did not take long for Moscow to respond to what it viewed as an "aggression" against Syrian government forces, which the Kremlin backs.

Russian officials not only suspended the so-called deconfliction channel with the United States that was set up to avoid potential military incidents between the two countries, but also said the military would shoot down any foreign aircraft west of the Euphrates River, which they consider the Kremlin's area of operations.

Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the key question about the latest incident was why Syria's government would even deploy a fighter jet over Raqqa, which it has not done for years.

"My assessment is that the Assad regime is testing and probing the US 'red lines' there and in the badia - i.e., the southeast desert areas - and the US is simply asserting that red line, no more," Sayigh wrote in an email.

The incident put a spotlight on the intensifying proxy war in Syria between forces backed by Russia and those supported by the United States, a conflict that has the potential to increasingly pit the two countries directly against each other in the battle over the future of Syria.

"The risks of escalation and of direct confrontation and more direct conflict between the United States and Russia have increased, and some might even say there are fait accompli since the number of incidents has increased," saidJonathan Stevenson, a former National Security Council director for political-military affairs, Middle East and North Africa, in the Obama White House.

"It's a very dangerous situation," said Iwan Morgan, professor of US studies at University College London. "The chances of confrontation have risen significantly."

Read more: Are US and Russia inching toward confrontation in Syria? | In Depth | DW | 20.06.2017

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