By John O’Hara
The Russian government has failed to explain why its pilots are conducting aggressive maneuvers in dangerous proximity to US aircraft, while also signing a memorandum of understanding with the Pentagon.
U.S. pilots told not to react to aggressive Russian jets in Syria… as the Pentagon signs ‘memorandum of understanding’ with Moscow to avoid clashes in the air
- U.S. official says pilots warned to follow normal aviation safety procedures
- Comes after incidents when Russian jets have flown close to U.S. planes
- Today, United States signed a deal with Moscow to prevent mid-air clashes
- Pentagon said memo’s full text would not be released at Russia’s request
- But the U.S. State Department insisted it is only about keeping pilots safe and not a ‘treaty of cooperation’
U.S. pilots have been told not to react to aggressive Russia military aircraft flying above Syria, according to a U.S. official.
It comes after recent reports that Russian jets had flown so close to U.S. planes that pilots were able to see each other.
But the official, who is said to be familiar with the incident, told CNN that pilots have been instructed to proceed with normal aviation safety procedures.
The official said Russian planes had flown extremely close to U.S. planes twice in the past two weeks – one flew within 500ft and another, on Thursday, came within 1,500 feet of two U.S. jets.
However, there was no suggestion of hostile intent or action in either incident.
And today, the United States and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding that includes steps their pilots should take in order to avoid inadvertent clashes in the air over Syria as the two countries conduct separate bombing campaigns.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters: ‘With today’s signatures, the memorandum of understanding is now in effect.
‘That was signed a short time ago, earlier today.’
But he said the full text of the memo would not be released at Russia’s request, but said it included specific protocols for air crews to follow, plus the creation of a ground communications link between the two sides in the event that air communications fail.
Cook said the memo calls for aircraft to maintain a safe distance, but he declined to be more specific about whether the protocols included specific distances.
He added that the agreement included coalition aircrafts. Coalition members include Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
‘The fact that we have had to resort to a memorandum of understanding gives you an indication of our concern about Russia’s activities but (also) our willingness to work with the Russians when it’s in our own interest,’ Cook added.
The U.S. State Department said the agreement is only about keeping pilots safe.
Spokesman John Kirby said: ‘It’s not a treaty of cooperation or anything like that … It doesn’t connote cooperation or coordination or joint targeting.’
The issue of aircraft safety started after Russia started bombing targets in Syria last month.
Moscow claims it is attacking Islamic State, but many of its air strikes have hit territory held by other rebel groups fighting against Russia’s Syrian ally, President Bashar al-Assad.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon said U.S.-led coalition aircrafts bombing Islamic State in Syria were re-routed at least once to avoid a close encounter with Russian planes.
‘The U.S. and Russia will form a working group to discuss any implementation issues that follow,’ Cook said, during a press briefing.
Meanwhile, Moscow confirmed it had received the memorandum on preventing mid-air incidents from the U.S. military.
According to Ria-Novosti, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said: ‘The memorandum contains a number of rules and restrictions aimed at preventing incidents between American and Russian plans.’
Russia had asked for ‘deconfliction’ talks with the United States after Moscow began bombing Syria on September 30.
The United States is leading a 60-plus member coalition targeting Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria and has been carrying out frequent raids for more than a year.
Russia also claims to be targeting ISIS and other ‘terrorists’ but the Pentagon says it is hitting rebels fighting government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
It’s obvious that the US must begin to counter Russia’s aggressive moves with aggression itself. Russia has the momentum in Syria and unless the US can show some backbone, the aggression will continue.