Russia claims one of its fighter jets was shot down in Syria. The pilot was able to eject from the aircraft but died shortly after while fighting on the ground. Russian jets are flying all over Syrian airspace and actively participating in the fighting. We all know that. What we do not know is if anybody is discussing the civilian casualties resulting from Russian operations. However, this is not the focus today.
The fact that the pilot was killed raises a number of questions. The initial rumors were that the pilot might not be Russian but from regime air forces, which apparently explains why the fighters on the ground killed him immediately. Some suggested that the fighters would rather use a Russian hostage as bargaining chip rather than kill him. The information about what exactly happened there is a bit confusing.
It is common knowledge that Russia is arming the Bashar Assad regime, and the U.S. is arming People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorists. In the meantime, the Turkish military operation in Afrin continues hand in hand with the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Russia says its plane was downed by a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rocket. The situation raises a few questions: Which militant group downed the plane, and who gave them the weapon? Tracing the rocket may provide valuable information.
The U.S. asserted that it did not provide the weapon. This does not mean it is not a U.S. rocket, but only means that the U.S. did not hand it to anyone in the area. By making this statement, the U.S. is saying they have no intentions of facing off with Russia militarily in Syria. If the weapon was not made in the U.S., it is important to figure out who produced it, and who brought it there. Once this player is identified, we may learn who hoped to provoke an armed conflict between the U.S. and Russia in Syria. As the U.S. insists it is not in any way involved in this incident, they are also saying they are ready to cooperate with Russia to punish those responsible.
Initial reports about the group responsible for the downing place the blame on "rebels." However, with so many rebel groups in Syria, this was not enough information. Then the Russian Defense Ministry said the dead pilot was working for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly linked to al-Qaida. We know that Russia is fighting against this particular group in Idlib, so it was not surprising.
The one responsible for this incident is apparently a player who does not want Russian presence in Syria. We can all guess who does not want Turkey, Iran or the U.S. in Syria, and the same is also true concerning Russia. We can guess who really is disturbed by the Russian presence there.
Daesh and al-Qaida, for instance, definitely do not want Russia to remain in Syria. As a matter of fact, these two groups do not want any foreign forces in Syria, except them. That is why all military actions taken against Daesh and al-Qaida are seen as legitimate, as Russian actions against them are seen. We know that radical groups are still very active in Syria, and the fight against them must therefore continue. One wonders, though, if these will now carry out an important attack against American soldiers deployed in Syria. Even though the U.S. is trying to justify its presence by saying they are helping the YPG, this is becoming quite problematic for them. So the U.S. needs new reasons to justify its presence in Syria.
Amid these complex circumstances, the one player who benefits the most from the recent developments is Assad. As of now, most players involved in Syria are fighting against those who tried to overthrow him. Russia and Iran are directly helping him, and they do not deny that. At the same time, the U.S. is helping Assad indirectly by sponsoring the YPG. However, it is not clear how Assad will be able to preserve this advantageous position once the political reconstruction process begins. He is just a tolerated player and only for now.