After initially blaming France and Israel for the disappearance of a Russian Ilyushin Il-20 surveillance plane, Moscow eventually admitted that it was shot down by a Syrian defense system. But Russia still blames Israel for their airstrikes that led to “a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region”.

A Russian Ilyushin Il-20 disappeared 35 kilometers from the Syrian coast during the night of September 17, 2018. Fifteen soldiers were on board, no survivor was found among the debris. The Ilyushin Il-20 is an electronic intelligence (ELINT) reconnaissance aircraft.

The Russian Ministry of Defense initially blamed the Israeli F-16s that were carrying out an airstrike on Syrian chemical facilities in the industrial zone of Latakia.

France was also accused: the Ministry said missile launches were detected by Russian radar aboard the multi-purpose frigate “Auvergne” that was sailing in the zone at the time of the attack. French authorities denied the claim.

However, in the morning of September 18, 2018, Russia announced that their plane was shot down by a Syrian S-200 missile system. The S-200 is a Russian-made long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM).

Yet Moscow kept blaming Israel for the loss of their aircraft. "Covering themselves behind the Russian plane, Israeli pilots placed it under fire of Syria's air defense,” said Igor Konashenkov, the representative of Russian Ministry of Defense in an official statement to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. “As a result, IL-20, which has an effective reflective surface greater than that of the F-16, was brought down by a S-200 missile. We regard the provocative actions of Israel as hostile. As a result of irresponsible actions of Israeli military, 15 Russian servicemen were killed, which is absolutely not keeping with the essence of the Russian-Israeli partnership."

Since 2015, Israeli and Russian air forces had been sharing mutual information on their Syrian operations. However according to Russian authorities, Israel warned of their strike a mere minute before they carried it out, leaving no chance for the Ilyushin Il-20 to reach a safer area. “The Russian military department regards Israel's provocative actions as hostile and reserves the right to adequate response actions,” said Konashenkov.