Russia says it detected an American spy aircraft circling in the skies between Russian bases in two Syrian cities during recent drone attacks on the facilities, implying that the United States may have been involved in the raids.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said 13 drones had targeted the Hmeimim airbase in Latakia Province and the naval facility in the port city of Tartus on Saturday.
It said Russian forces had repelled the assaults by shooting down seven of the drones and gaining electronic control over six others and safely landing them. It said the drone attacks had caused no damage.
The Russian ministry said data for the drone attacks could have only been obtained “from one of the countries that possesses knowhow in satellite navigation,” without naming any particular country.
“The programming of systems to control unmanned aerial vehicles and drop GPS-guided munitions requires completing engineering studies in a developed country. Besides, not everyone is capable of calculating exact coordinates using space surveillance data,” the statement read.
That technology, the ministry suggested, may have been transferred to terrorist groups in Syria to conduct the attacks. “We would like to stress once again that terrorists did not have anything of that kind until recently.”
It said the presence of the US spy aircraft flying near the two Russian bases at the moment of the Saturday assault was a “strange coincidence,” strengthening speculation that the country Russia had in mind was the US.
The drone strikes came less than a week after two Russian servicemen were killed in a militant mortar assault on the Hmeimim airbase.
The Washington Post has described the drone and the mortar attacks on the Russian facilities as potentially “the most concerted assault” on Russia in Syria since September 2015, when Moscow launched an aerial campaign against extremist groups inside Syria at the Damascus government’s request.
The Pentagon on Tuesday denied any involvement in the attacks on the Russian bases in Syria. Marine Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, attempted to implicate the Daesh terrorist group.
He said Daesh had often used armed drones against US-allied forces in Syria and Iraq, adding that small drones are available in the open market.
But Daesh has not claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Russian bases as of yet. Neither has any other group.
Furthermore, an analysis conducted by the British defense consultancy IHS Markit group challenged the Pentagon’s characterization of the circumstances.
According to the analysis, most of the Daesh drones used against the US forces had had a range of no more than one to two kilometers. This is while Russia estimated that the drones used in the Hmeimim attack had come from between 50 and 100 kilometers away.
The US and Russia support opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.
Besides its role on the battlefield, Russia, along with Iran and Turkey, has been mediating a peace process between the Syrian government and opposition in the Kazakh capital, Astana, since January.