Russian military responds to US ‘drone harassment’ complaints
The Russian Air Force is conducting joint exercises with its Syrian counterparts, so part of the country’s airspace remains off-limits to the US-led forces, the Defense Ministry reiterated after the Pentagon accused Russia of “harassing” American drones for the third time this week.
“The Russian side once again expresses concern about the systematic violations of deconfliction protocols related to the flights of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of the so-called international anti-terrorist coalition,” the deputy head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, Rear Adm. Oleg Gurinov, said in a statement on Saturday.
On Friday, the commander of US Air Forces Central, Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, claimed that “three MQ-9 drones were once again harassed by Russian fighter aircraft while flying over Syria,” for the third day in a row. He shared no footage of the encounters this time, but accused Russian pilots of making “18 unprofessional close passes that caused the MQ-9s to react to avoid unsafe situations.”
On Wednesday, Moscow and Damascus kicked off joint air defense drills, which are scheduled to last until the middle of this month. Electronic warfare units are also involved in the exercise, preparing for joint action to counter enemy airstrikes.
Asked whether the US drones could have indeed flown into a restricted area, Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder insisted at a press briefing on Thursday that it would be preposterous to suggest Washington was to blame.
“You... did you see the video?... So to suggest that somehow, you know, this is our fault, it’s ridiculous. So, okay?” he told journalists.
Ryder went on to say that US forces “have very successfully deconflicted with the Russians over many years,” but refused to say whether the US was following deconfliction protocols this time.