As reported previously, in the February 7 Syria battle, Russian mercenaries and allied units fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad attacked a base held by U.S.-backed forces, mainly Kurds, in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region. According to the Pentagon, after 20 to 30 artillery and tank rounds landed near the Kurds and U.S. soldiers acting as advisers, the U.S. coalition responded with artillery and airstrikes. The result was over 200 Russian mercenaries killed.
U.S. forces used a deconfliction line with the Russian military to inquire whether the attacking force was theirs. White said that U.S. officials “were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the attack.”
Further complicating matters, the Russian assault on the base in Syria may have been a rogue operation, conducted by the Wagner Group, the Russian equivalent of the US Xi, or Blackwater, a firm owned by a Kremlin-connected businessman named Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The risk is that by elevating the status of Russian mercenaries to state-backed fighters - which would be the only reason why the US action would be indicative of a tough stance toward the Kremlin - Russia will interpret what until now was deemed largely an accident, albeit the deadliest encounter between the two countries in decades, as an overt act meant to punish Russia by killing its troops - whether legitimate soldiers or mercs - and Putin would have no choice but to respond in kind.
The potential escalation takes place two days after Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, warned the Trump administration on Feb. 19 not to “play with fire” in Syria by supporting the autonomy-seeking Kurds, who have helped the U.S. largely eradicate the Islamic State militant group’s presence in the country.
With US relations with Russia once again deteriorating by the day, the Navy has deployed the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney to the Black Sea, where it will join the destroyer USS Ross, in a move that military officials told CNN is intended to "desensitize Russia" to the presence of US military forces in the Black Sea, Russia's geographic equivalent of the Gulf of Mexico.
Officials told CNN that given the heightened tensions and increased military activity in the region "it is important to increase the frequency of US activity in the area and desensitize Russia to the presence of US military forces there", helping to establish rules for how the two countries should safely operate in proximity to each other, as they did in the Cold War.
The naval deployment comes as NATO ground forces pile up in central and eastern Europe, allegedly in response for Russia's continued militarization of Crimea. Nevertheless, U.S. and NATO officials have insisted that they are not playing tit-for-tat with the Russians.
Subsequent footage analysis confirm that the videos were indeed taken in Syria as the jets made a landing at Russia's master air base located south of Latakia:
The deployment also comes after a steadily increasing number of aggressive interactions between Russia's tactical aircraft and U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighters over eastern Syria. If the Kremlin has sent the Su-57s to Syria it could further complicate those situations since American pilots have no actual experience, beyond intelligence assessments and possibly simulations, with how the Russian aircraft appears on their sensors and at what ranges, what the jet's actual combat capabilities are, and what threat they might pose. At the same time, of course, it could give the United States an excellent opportunity to gather new information about the fighters, especially depending on what sensors they activate or if they fly in a full low-observable configuration during missions.