US, Russia Seek to Avoid Crossing Paths in Syria, General Says

In this photo taken on Oct. 5, 2015, a Russian pilot fixes an air-to-air missile at his Su-30 jet before a take off at Hmeimim airbase in Syria. (AP Photo/Dmitry Steshin, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Photo via AP)In this photo taken on Oct. 5, 2015, a Russian pilot fixes an air-to-air missile at his Su-30 jet before a take off at Hmeimim airbase in Syria. (AP Photo/Dmitry Steshin, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Photo via AP)

The U.S. Air Force’s top officer in Europe this week dismissed a claim that a Russian military plane violated British airspace and said he would not call the Russian air force a threat to U.S. and other forces operating over Europe and the Middle East.

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa, said he had to “correct” a claim that Russia violated British airspace, though acknowledged the widely reported incident in which Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft that it said flew over its border with Syria.

Gorenc made the remark last week during a briefing with reporters at the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Press Center in New York.

“I wouldn’t describe it [the Russian air force] as a threat,” he said. “Oftentimes we meet [them] particularly in international airspace. It’s very rare that there is a violation of NATO airspace.”

In the Middle East, where Russia has engaged in its own operations against Islamic State in Syria, Russia and the U.S., which is leading a coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, also known as ISIL, are making every effort not to cross paths in the skies, Gorenc said.

“There is an agreement with … the Russian air force operating in airspace where we do with respect to Syria,” he said. “The most important thing we can do is have a memorandum of understanding to be able to de-conflict and not put ourselves in a situation that is not advantageous to either Russia or the coalition of 65 countries [the U.S. is leading] in that particular area.”

Right now, the Russians have a particular interest in an area where there are also common interests, Gorenc said.

“I would describe it more as a de-confliction rather than an adversarial relationship,” he said.

While he didn’t describe Russia as a threat, the general in September made a point to say how the country’s development of new surface-to-air missile systems and other air defenses has ‘closed the gap’ between U.S. air superiority.

Russia in recent years has deployed an increasing number of higher quality air defense systems, particularly in and around Kaliningrad and Crimea — which it annexed from the Ukraine last year — to limit the ability of U.S. and NATO aircraft to enter its airspace, he said.

–Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.