On October 20 of this year, the spokesman for the Russian military, Major General Igor Konashenkov, announced that a memorandum was signed between the United States and Russia on the prevention of possible air incidents in the sky of Syria, where both signatory countries are currently causing aviation attacks on the position of the Islamic State.
Also, according to the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, previously announced by the Deputy Minister of Defense of Russia, Anatoly Antonov, work on the document began in early October. But in spite of the fact that the coordination process has already been completed, and the memorandum has been signed, it has not only been not published in the Russian mass media, but not even private extracts.
According to the Pentagon, voiced by the official representative of the US military department Peter Cook, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the United States and Russia, which, in particular, indicates what the pilots of the two countries should do in order to “avoid an accidental collision in the sky over Syria during separate strikes ”(includes steps of air strikes).
According to the Pentagon, the full text of the document signed by the United States commander of the Central Command, General Lloyd Weber, has not been disclosed. At the same time, the memorandum contains quite interesting points, in particular, on the creation of a joint Russian-American group to resolve “implementation issues”, as well as on the creation of a continuous communication line between the US and Russian military.
Peter Cook pointed out that the document prescribes American and Russian military aircraft to observe “safe distances” (for US and Russian aircraft to maintain a safe distance), but refused to answer the question whether these specific “safe distances” are indicated in the memorandum.
“We agree to interact with Russia, if it is in our interests,” the Pentagon official said. But he emphasized that we are not talking about the organization of interaction, coordination, and the joint distribution of goals.
Relatively recently, a unique video of the Su-30SM Su-9SM Aerospace Forces of Russia flying the American Miper Rifter drone drone in the Syrian sky appeared relatively recently in the Russian media.
Shortly before this, there were reports of a dangerous rapprochement between the Russian combat vehicles and the anti-Igil coalition planes. According to the Pentagon, the US military at least once had to cancel the planned air strikes because of the possibility of unexpectedly crossing in a given area with Russian aircraft.
However, according to some reports, Americans were forced to change plans more often. In particular, because of the possible presence of Russian aviation, flights of the MS-130 transport belonging to the US Air Force Special Operations Command were canceled, the task of which was to supply troops of the so-called moderate opposition.
The US military began to take concrete steps to control the actions of the Russian military aviation, even before the Russian Aerospace Forces launched strikes. In September, when there was a transfer of Russian troops to Syria, the Pentagon first "expressed concern," and then demanded to provide data on the passage of Russian military transport aircraft over the territory of Syria and Iraq. According to the US military, unauthorized overflights of Russian aviation created problems for the actions of the coalition air forces. After the refusal of the Russian side to provide such information, Bulgaria closed its airspace for the passage, and pressure was also put on Greece.
Since the beginning of the first strikes of the Russian armed forces on the position of Syrian militants, the concern has been replaced by a rather strong anti-Russian media campaign, the peak of which was material in the British newspaper Daily Star that British pilots got permission to shoot down Russian aircraft if they pose a threat to their fighters- Tornado bombers.
A little later, Sunday Times journalists, citing a representative of the United Kingdom government, indicated that it was only that British attack aircraft participating in operations against ISIS, in addition to the guided bombs for self-defense, would also be suspended air-to-air missiles.
A short response was also caused by the brief flight of a Russian fighter into Turkish airspace, which was used by the NATO leadership as a pretext for its readiness to protect the sovereign airspace of a country that is a member of the North Atlantic Alliance.
But the contingent of Russian aerospace forces in Syria from the moment of the first sorties took a rather tough position. In particular, the strike vehicles are accompanied by Su-30CM fighters, equipped with air-to-air missiles of both short-range and medium-range, and Su-34 front-line bombers take off only with suspended containers of the newest Kibiny e-bomber station.
In addition to the United States and the coalition led by them, Israel also expressed concern about the actions of Russia, several times even raising its fighters into the air in those rare moments when the Russian Aerospace Forces struck in southern Syria, close to the Golan Heights.
Air war diplomats
So, the memorandum of understanding was signed, the Pentagon stated that its action not only extends to the US military department, but will also be strictly observed by other countries participating in the coalition. But is the problem solved?
For now, we can only say that only a certain framework agreement has been reached, in which the problem and the ways to solve it for the first time are described in general terms. According to the newspaper Military Industrial Courier, one of the requirements of the US military to Russian colleagues is to transfer data about targets and locations of aircraft attacked by airborne forces in order to prevent an “unexpected meeting” with Russian aircraft in the air. At the same time, the Russian side proposed a slightly different format of interaction - to create a joint intelligence and information center, similar to the Russian-Syrian-Iraqi one already operating in Baghdad, or to expand the powers of the latter. Also, to coordinate joint efforts, it was proposed to exchange intermediary officers.
It is necessary to understand, the variant of the Pentagon is quite crafty. The Russian Defense Ministry’s information on what targets and when American planes will hit will really help avoid possible air incidents. But if the Air Force and the US Navy strike only at ISIS, the Russian side works on the positions of Syrian militants, some of which the West refers to the so-called moderate opposition. It is supplied by the United States and its allies, including Turkey and the countries of the Persian Gulf. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the members of the coalition will not try to prevent the Russian side from implementing the planned program, or even simply begin to transfer information to the enemy.
By agreeing with the Russian conditions, the United States actually recognizes Russia as a full participant in the events, with which it is necessary to reckon and coordinate their actions. But the maximum that the States were ready for was, as mentioned above, “to interact with Russia, if it is in our interests.”
Faced with complete incomprehension, diplomats and the military attempted to reach an agreement in order to defuse the situation, which was rapidly heating up in the Syrian sky. Therefore, the work on the coordination of the memorandum between Russia and the United States officially began on October 10, and in fact its project appeared even earlier, according to the newspaper “Military Industrial Courier” - no later than October October 7.
Separately, it is necessary to dwell on Russia's insistent proposals to include in the document a joint search and rescue of pilots who crashed or even shot down over Syria as Russian cars and aircraft of the “anti-Igilovka coalition.” According to the official position of the Russian military department, voiced by Major General Igor Konashenkov, “in the event of any force majeure in the skies of Syria, the bill will go not even for hours, but for minutes, and from concerted actions in such operations to save people depend on their life. "
To carry out such operations, some kind of interaction will be required, as indicated by the RF Ministry of Defense, as well as a very specific joint group that will prescribe an algorithm for action in the event of a pilot evacuation and will lead such operations. And again, the United States will have to recognize Russia as a full participant in the conflict and start organizing joint actions with it - and this against the backdrop of the isolation declared by the Barack Obama administration.
But the memorandum was signed, albeit with reservations. According to the United States, this is a kind of framework document that helps to solve only some difficulties in the Syrian sky, but does not, which the Pentagon, Russia particularly emphasizes, is involved in events with which it is necessary to coordinate and jointly plan its actions. At the same time, the Russian side notes a serious shift in the negotiations.
The Devil in Detail
The most important point of the document signed by 20 in October is the formation of some kind of joint working group to solve “implementation issues”, but this formulation may conceal a more serious problem that Russian and US military and diplomats have just begun to solve. According to some information, one of the further solutions to the problem can be a line dividing areas of responsibility - when each of the parties acts against ISIL only on the territory allocated to it, without flying into someone else's.
This option removes many problems. Firstly, the American and allied aircraft even theoretically will not meet with the Russian. Secondly, the problem with the choice of targets is removed, since each side will destroy enemy targets without regard to "partners." And thirdly, apart from the so-called junction of areas of responsibility, it is not necessary to create joint teams, to invent action algorithms for the search and rescue of pilots who left the plane as a result of an accident or fire of enemy air defenses.
The most important thing is that the coalition and Russia formally retain their independence, since they operate independently in their areas of responsibility. For the United States, the division of Syria into areas of responsibility meets the definition of “interacting with Russia, if it is in our interests.”
It is not excluded that the joint working group established under the current memorandum of understanding will move to work on the formation of areas of responsibility and their distribution. But expect a quick solution to this problem is not worth it.
Options for the formation of zones may be several. The first is the extensive zones dividing the regions not only controlled by ISIL, but also those where the units of the so-called moderate opposition are based. The second is a few small areas of responsibility only where ISIL operates. And the third is again small zones, but in which the positions of the “Islamic State” and the “moderate” militants fall.
The US and the coalition countries are interested not only in defeating ISIS, but also in supporting moderate opposition, so they will strive to get into their area of responsibility as much of the territory now controlled by the rebels as possible. In this case, the opponents of Bashar Assad can not only be covered from the blows of the Russian Aerospace Forces, but also freely supplied by air.
If you look at the map of Syria, then the “Anti-Igilov coalition” is primarily interested in the northern part of the country, plus it is advisable to move the boundary of the zone of responsibility to the west as far as possible - towards the Mediterranean Sea and densely populated areas. According to American officials, the opposition is one of the main forces fighting the Islamic State, and it must be supported. Therefore, the first and the third options for the division of areas of responsibility are more acceptable to the coalition.
But this option does not suit Russia, which logically sees its “hunting grounds” not only in the north, but also in the whole coastal part of the country - those areas that are currently the main application of the efforts of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the advancing troops of Bashar al-Assad. Russia's position on this issue is quite simple: the coalition is fighting ISIS, so there is no need to include in their areas of responsibility the territories controlled by the Syrian opposition units, leading battles with the government troops of Bashar al-Assad.
It should be noted that in two months (considering the stage of preparation and the transfer of troops), the Russian military and diplomats were able to achieve some success. The position of the United States, albeit with a crunch, shifted from the requirements to provide all the information on the actions of the Russian grouping to the memorandum of understanding and the creation of a joint working group, as well as to the first steps to differentiate actions.
But it cannot be ruled out that Russia and the United States will not be able to find mutual understanding and agree, then the idea of areas of responsibility will be unrealized.