The stakes in Syria just jumped mighty high. Syrian troops attacked the anti-ISIS fighters we back. We warned them to knock it off. In reply, a Syrian aircraft struck our allies. An American jet shot it down.
Now the Russian government says it will view as hostile any manned aircraft or drone flying west of the Euphrates River. That means us.
Were we to accept Russia’s ultimatum, we could not support our allies and we’d be shut out of the endgame battle with ISIS when, as Raqqa falls, the terrorists make a last stand at Deir ez-Zor (a city with a grim history: It was the end-station for Armenian genocide victims death-marched across the desert).
The technical wording of their threat allows the Russians a little bit of leeway, but what makes the pronouncement dangerous is that it’s public — making it hard for Vladimir Putin to back down. Of course, Putin’s a gambler, and a canny one. He may be bluffing. But we can’t count on it. We must assume his forces in Syria are already setting ambushes for our aviators.
Meanwhile, the Russian media, in a Big Lie mode excessive even by Moscow’s shameless standards, insist US troops on the ground are supporting ISIS, while the noble Syrian forces — alongside their selfless Russian and Iranian comrades — are the only ones fighting the terrorists.
In reality, Bashar al-Assad and his backers cynically dumped the burden of wrecking ISIS on us and our local allies to concentrate on slaughtering civilians, exterminating freedom fighters and torturing thousands of prisoners to death. Now that we’ve done the anti-ISIS heavy lifting, they want to exclude us from the endgame and crush our Kurdish and Arab allies.
Russian media have also been giving a platform to Putin’s generals and their alarming tone. It doesn’t sound like the Cold War I remember. It sounds worse. Having won again and again over the past decade, from Georgia to Crimea and now Syria, Russia’s officer corps appears to be itching for a…