Tensions flared between Russia and the United States as the Russian military reportedly seeks to expand its presence in U.S.-controlled northeastern Syria, news outlets reported this week.
The latest flare-up follows the Russian military’s reported attempt to build a base near the Turkish and Iraqi borders last week. President Vladimir Putin has ordered talks with Russia's ally Syria on cementing Moscow's presence with additional military facilities in the conflict-torn country.
U.S. and Russian forces squared off in two tense encounters in the same area on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Mideast news website Al-Monitor reported, citing local monitoring groups and news agencies.
Villagers reportedly protested against a Russian patrol Tuesday near the northeastern Syria border town of Al-Malikiyah (Derik) as U.S. convoys awaited them nearby. On Wednesday, a Russian patrol was said to have come toe-to-toe with an American convoy outside Derik, blocking civilian traffic for hours.
AFP video showed U.S. and Russian military patrols parked on a road as local civilians protested the Russian presence.
The latest standoffs follow a series of similar incidents reported in northeastern Syria earlier this year.
“This is not a sustainable situation,” tweeted Brett McGurk, the former U.S. envoy for the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.
American officials have previously accused Russia of violating the terms of de-confliction in what they characterized as an attempt to challenge the U.S. presence there.
Russia, a staunch ally of the Syrian government, launched a military air campaign in Syria in 2015 to help Damascus recapture parts of the country from rebels.
Moscow has long insisted that the U.S. military presence in Syria is illegal.