MOSCOW — Warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition operating over Syrian government-controlled areas west of the Euphrates River will be tracked as potential targets, Russia's Defense Ministry said Monday, a day after the U.S. military shot down a Syrian air force jet.
Moscow condemned the downing of the Syrian jet after it dropped bombs near the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that are fighting ISIS in Syria's increasingly complicated civil war.
The downing of the warplane — the first time in the conflict that the U.S. has shot down a Syrian jet — came as Iran fired several ballistic missiles at ISIS positions in eastern Syria in retaliation for two attacks by the extremists in Tehran earlier this month that killed 17 people.
Escalating tensions in the region "doesn't help anybody," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday. The U.S. goal remains de-escalating the conflict, but Spicer made clear that "we will always preserve the right of self-defense" should actions be taken against the U.S. or coalition forces.
Areas of northern Syria west of the Euphrates were controlled by ISIS before Syrian government forces captured most of them in recent months. The Russians appear to want to avoid further U.S. targeting of Syrian warplanes or ground troops that have come under U.S. attack in eastern Syria recently.
Moscow also called on the U.S. military to provide a full accounting of why it decided to shoot down the Syrian Su-22.
Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has been providing an air cover to the government's offensive since 2015.
But in April, Russia briefly suspended a hotline intended to prevent midair incidents with the U.S. over Syria after the American military fired 59 missiles at a Syrian air base following a chemical weapons attack that Washington blamed on the Assad government.
The U.S. military confirmed that one of its F-18 Super Hornets shot down a Syrian Su-22 that had dropped bombs near the U.S. partner forces SDF. Those forces, which are aligned with the U.S. in the campaign against ISIS, warned Syrian government troops to stop their attacks or face retaliation.
In comments to Russian news agencies, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov compared the downing to "helping the terrorists that the U.S. is fighting against."
"What is this, if not an act of aggression?" he asked.
Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the defense and security committee at the upper chamber of Russian parliament, described the Defense Ministry's statement as a warning.
Ozerov insisted that Russia will be tracking the coalition's jets, not shooting them down, but he added that "a threat for those jets may appear only if they take action that pose a threat to Russian aircraft."