Russia’s ambassador to Britain said he has requested an urgent explanation from the British government after a media report Sunday said that British pilots flying anti-ISIS missions have been given permission to shoot down Russian aircraft if threatened. Calling the report in the London Sunday Times “worrying,” Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko said in a statement issued by the embassy, “We have urgently requested explanations from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.” The newspaper quoted defense sources as saying that Royal Air Force Tornados, up until now armed with satellite-guided bombs for use in the anti-ISIS mission, will be equipped also with air-to-air missiles in case threatened by Russian warplanes that are operating in the area.
“The first thing a British pilot will do is to try to avoid a situation where an air-to-air attack is likely to occur – you avoid an area if there is Russian activity,” a source from Britain’s defense Permanent Joint Headquarters in north London told the paper. “But if a pilot is fired on or believes he is about to be fired on, he can defend himself,” the source said. “We now have a situation where a single pilot, irrespective of nationality, can have a strategic impact on future events.” Russia launched airstrikes in Syria on September 30, in a campaign ostensibly targeting ISIS but seen as primarily designed to prop up the Assad regime. CONTINUE