The United States should have been able to prevent last month's shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkish military authorities because of a mutual agreement on regional air safety between the Kremlin and the Pentagon, the foreign ministry in Russia said Monday. The agreement, formalized in October, detailed a number of rules of engagement in the fight against the Islamic State militant group in Syria, including how to prevent the countries' pilots from mistakenly flying into or shooting each other.
"Despite the fact that the defense ministries of [the U.S. and Russia] signed a memorandum on ensuring the safety of military aviation flights in Syrian airspace, Washington — which took the responsibility for the actions of the entire coalition it leads — hasn’t ensured compliance with the relevant provisions of the document by its ally Turkey,” the ministry said, RT reported. Turkey has alleged that it warned the Russian pilots to leave its sovereign airspace multiple times before firing, and Russia has said it never breached Turkish airspace.
Russia maintains that because the U.S. is leading the international coalition in the fight against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, the responsibility to uphold the agreement over potential breaches of airspace fell squarely on the shoulders of the Americans. According to the RT report, the U.S. vowed to have round-the-clock communication with Russia "in order to prevent incidents and provide for the smooth operation of the two nations' aircraft, and for mutual aid in critical situations."
The agreement, however, did not officially mention any specific zones for where each country would act in concert, according to a Pentagon spokesperson. Nor did it stipulate that there would be any sharing of intelligence among the two nations, which counters Russia's charge Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported in October after the deal was reached.
“The discussions through which this [agreement] has developed do not constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia's policy or actions in Syria — in fact, far from it,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Oct. 20, according to the L.A. Times. “We continue to believe that Russia's strategy in Syria is counterproductive and their support for the Assad regime will only make Syria's civil war worse.”
At the time, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov lauded the landmark agreement "as a positive step" for the "prevention of incidents and ensuring air flight safety in the course of the operation in the Syrian Arab Republic."