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Russia demands UK explanation on ‘authorization to shoot down Russian jets’

A picture taken on October 3, 2015 shows a Russian Sukhoi SU-24 jet taking off from the Hmeimim airbase in the Syrian province of Latakia. (Photo by AFP)

Russia has demanded an explanation from the UK about media reports that British pilots have been given the permission to attack Russian jets in Iraq.

“Today, the military attaché at the British Embassy in Moscow was summoned to the Russian Defense Ministry,” the Russian Defense Ministry press service said in a statement on Sunday.

“He was handed a note with a request to provide official explanations on information, published in the British media, citing high-ranking sources in the Defense Ministry of the country, on alleged directives to use weapons against Russian aircraft ‘in case of threat to their lives,’ received by Royal Air Force pilots,” the statement read.

The British military attaché reportedly said that he had no information on the issue and would submit an official reply in the nearest future.

The Russian move came after a UK defense source told The Sunday Times that Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots had been reportedly given a clearance to shoot down Russian jets if they are endangered by them.

“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,” the unidentified source from the UK’s Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) told The Sunday Times.

“But if a pilot is fired on or believes he is about to be fired on, he can defend himself. We now have a situation where a single pilot, irrespective of nationality, can have a strategic impact on future events,” the source added.

Moscow’s air campaign in Syria kicked off on September 30 at the request of the Syrian government.

“We are concerned by media reports as far as they refer to senior members of the Cabinet. We urgently requested UK Foreign Office's clarifications. At the same time, the hypothesis itself of a potential conflict between British and Russian aircraft in the skies over Iraq is incomprehensible. As it is known, the Russian jets are not involved in attacks on ISIL targets on its [Iraqi] territory,” Russian Ambassador in the UK Alexander Yakovenko said.

The Russia airstrikes in Syria aim to stop the advance of an alliance of militants, including al-Nusra terrorists.

To date, more than 250,000 people have been killed in the turmoil that has gripped Syria since March 2011.

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