Russia’s defence ministry has summoned Britain’s defence attache in Moscow to explain reports that RAF pilots had been authorised to shoot down Russian aircraft in the Middle East.
This follows a report in several Sunday papers claiming that the RAF Tornado fighters combating IS in Iraq were armed with missiles designed for air combat.
However an RAF spokesperson said: “There is no truth in this story.”
The British embassy in Moscow confirmed that the defence attache had been asked to clarify the UK’s position and had visited the Russian ministry of defence in Moscow on Sunday.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The Russian government sought clarification over inaccurate newspaper reports concerning RAF rules of engagement in Iraq.
“The defence attache reiterated the British government’s concerns about Russia’s military operation in Syria, including targeting legitimate opposition groups, using unguided weaponry and leading to large numbers of civilian deaths.”
In London, the Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, said Moscow had urgently requested an explanation from the Foreign Office.
He said: “The very premise of a potential conflict of UK and Russian combat aircraft over Iraq is incomprehensible.
It is known that Russian air force does not take part in strikes against Isis targets in the said country.
At the same time, RAF does not participate in the anti-Isis coalition strikes in Syria.
The question arises, what is the goal of such a provocative media leak? Whose morale are they meant to raise?”
A defence source said that RAF planes flying in Iraq can carry air-to-air missiles but they do not in Syria and there is no intention to do so.
The RAF only conducts surveillance over Syrian air space at present but these are carried out by Reaper drones.
RAF surveillance planes also monitor events on the ground in Syria but they do so from positions outside Syria.
Russia has not ruled out airstrikes in Iraq if they are requested by the Iraqi government, but so far is only operating in Syria.