The tough talk coming out of the Kremlin has been increasingly more provocative in the days since American and Russian troops were involved in an Aug. 25, 2020 armored vehicle crash that injured seven U.S. service members.
U.S. official Capt. Bill Urban says the Russian troops used "deliberately provocative and aggressive behavior" in northeastern Syria. There is a series of established means for the Russian and American forces in the country to communicate and the Russians blatantly disregarded those channels.
Instead of communicating a request for passage through an American-controlled zone, a convoy of Russian armored vehicles made and "unauthorized incursion" into the area. They met a joint American and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) convoy, which they decided to "aggressively and recklessly pursue."
As the U.S. convoy moved, it was sideswiped by Russian vehicles, and buzzed by an extremely low overflight from a Russian helicopter. While the seven servicemembers sustained injuries consistent with vehicle accidents, all are said to have returned to regular duty.
There are now videos of the provocative behavior circulating on social media sites. The Russian Embassy in the United States blamed the US for the collision, after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mike Milley and the chief of Russia's General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, discussed the incident via telephone.
General Gerasimov said the American-led coalition in Syria was informed of the Russian convoy's passage and that it was the US convoy that was attempting to block and delay the Russians' passing through the area. The Pentagon confirmed the conversation, but none of the details announced by the Russians.
The National Security council released a statement to CNN that revealed the vehicle struck by the Russians was a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) and that Russia's behavior was "a breach of deconfliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019."
This most recent clash between American and Russian military forces came near the northeastern Syrian town of Dayrick. A number of incidents involving US troops coming under attack from Russian-back Syrian government forces have occurred in recent weeks, including a rocket attack on a U.S. base and a skirmish between Syrian and American convoys.
Russia is opposed to the continued American presence in the SDF-controlled eastern provinces of Syria, which contain much of the country's oil fields – and are used by the Kurdish-led SDF to fund its continued anti-ISIS operations in Syria. Though President Trump has ordered all but 500 US troops to leave Syria, the United Nations estimates there are still some 10,000 or more ISIS-affiliated fighters operating in the country.
The last time American forces engaged in a direct altercation with Russians in Syria, it resulted in a four-hour firefight between Syrian government troops with the help of Russian mercenaries and a cadre of U.S. troops in an SDF headquarters building. No Americans were harmed.