While relations between Russian and the United States have certainly soured since Russia’s annexation/invasion of the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine many, look to Syria to be the arena where an accident or act of aggression marks the beginning of World War 3. The United States’ and Russia’s forces are nearby and in the country for very different reasons which could spell disaster.

World War 3
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Syria could provide the spark which sets off World War 3

Both the United States and Russia have a strong military presence on the ground and in the air over Syria to say nothing of each countries’ naval forces near by and this proximity is far from ideal especially when you consider the military objectives of each nation.

While Russia may claim to be assisting in the battle against the Islamic State or ISIS, the United States has stated on numerous occasions that Russia has used this guise in a lightly veiled interest in supporting the Assad regime over the rebels that led to the long civil war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and left millions in harms way and fleeing the country in what can only be called a serious humanitarian and refugee crisis. Russia has been instrumental in the bombing of Aleppo where one of the strongest pockets of rebel resistance is holed up in their fight against Assad.

The United States, on the other hand, is clearly more interested in supporting rebels opposed to the Assad regime and its fight against ISIS. Russia has installed its best air defense systems in the country and is essentially able to target, on purpose or accidentally, any U.S. warplane flying over Syria.

When you throw in NATO-member Turkey which downed a Russian bomber late last year as well as ground troops and Kurdish fighters, the situation certainly doesn’t get any better.

Recent near mid-air collision between Russian, U.S planes

Earlier today, the Defense Department reported that a Russian fighter which was on escort duty for a Russian spy plane came far too close to a U.S. warplane presumably there to persecute ISIS targets.

While not a matter of meters, “inside of half a mile” is very close at those speeds and in the crowded sky. The incident occurred on October 17 according to Air Force Lieutenant General Jeff Harrigian.

Another unnamed U.S. official said that the American pilot felt the turbulence of the near miss.
“It was close enough you could feel the jet wash of the plane passing by,” the unnamed official said.

It appears that neither plane and with good reason, were flying with lights and it’s likely the Russian plane simply didn’t see the U.S. warplane. That said, it just shows the possibility of an accident in the crowded skies over Syria as each country pursues its goals in the region.

“I would attribute it to not having the necessary situational awareness given all those platforms operating together,” Harrigian said.

While Russia has been buzzing American naval forces in other areas of the world intentionally, for all intents and purposes, this appears to be an accident or simple incompetence.

U.S. Military officials have pointed out that this is hardly an isolated incident with Russian planes following or otherwise harassing U.S. warplanes roughly once every ten days in the skies over this potential powder keg which is Syria.