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On February 3, militants of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) shot down a Russian Su-25 attack aircraft with a MANPAD, over the village of Khan al-Sabil in the Syrian province of Idlib. The attack aircraft was on a combat patrol, carrying out airstrikes on facilities belonging to the terrorist group in the area of Saraqib.
The warplane’s pilot, Major Roman Filipov ejected before the plane crashed. Injured and surrounded, Filipov fought with the militants on the ground. During the fight, he fired at least 40 rounds from his Stechkin automatic pistol at the enemies. Then, Filipov allowed the militants to approach him, shouted “This is for our boys!” and blew himself up using a hand grenade. This explosion likely killed or injured a few militants.
Following the incident, the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out a massive strike on the area where the militants downed the warplane and where they attempted to capture its pilot. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the strike killed at least 30 militants.
With help of Turkey, Filipov’s body was handed over to Russia and was brought to the country on February 6. Major Filipov was posthumously awarded the title of the Hero of Russia, the highest honorary title of the Russian Federation.
According to the local sources, Russia deployed additional units of the Special Forces at frontlines in Syria following the shootdown of the Su-25. It appears that the incident triggered an increase of both ground and air aspects of the Russian military involvement in the Idlib operation. This may become a turning point in the standoff in this part of the country, similar to the operations in Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Palmyra, when Russia shifted its strategy from regular support ofthe Syrian Army to direct active actions. If this occurs, it would significantly influence the dynamic and the nature of the military operations in Idlib.