iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — Russia has warned the United States not to intervene militarily in Syria against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, threatening that it may shoot down any aircraft attempting to launch strikes.
In a bluntly worded statement, a spokesman for Russia’s defense ministry warned that Russia and the Syrian government had deployed sufficient air defenses to block any potential attacks.
It follows rumbling in Washington that the White House may be considering launching strikes against some Syrian regime military targets as an alternative option for moving forward in the Syrian conflict after the collapse of U.S.-Russian cease-fire negotiations.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the Pentagon was presenting the Obama administration with the option of strikes at meetings this week. The strikes would be intended to increase the pressure on the Assad regime and Moscow to halt assaults on civilians and to return to possible peace negotiations.
The strikes are now back on the table but President Obama is still very unlikely to approve them, experts have said.
Maj. Gen. Igor Konashekov, the Russian defense ministry spokesman, directly addressed the reports in a briefing on Monday, when he warned the U.S. against trying to intervene.
Although Konashenkov did not directly say Russia would shoot down American aircraft attacking Syrian government forces, his tone was clear.
“I would recommend our colleagues in Washington to thoroughly consider the possible consequences of the realization of such plans,” Konashenkov said.
“It follows to really be conscious that there will hardly be time in the calculations of the Russian air-defense units to clarify on the ‘direct line’ the precise flight-plan of missiles and who they belong to,” Konashenkov said, referring to the hotline already established by the U.S. and Russia to prevent clashes between their aircraft conducting strikes in Syria.
Konshenkov warned that Russia had deployed advanced S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft missiles to its bases in Syria, noting that their range “can be a surprise for any unidentified flying objects.”
The ministry spokesman added: “The illusions of dilettantes about the existence of ‘stealth’ aircraft may encounter a disappointing reality.”
Konashenkov referred again to a strike on Sept. 17, when U.S. military aircraft killed dozens of Syrian government troops accidentally. The Pentagon has said the strike was a mistake, but Konashenkov said Russia was prepared to prevent “any similar ‘mistakes’” against Russian troops.
The White House has been examining so-called “kinetic” options since a cease-fire deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia collapsed amid mutual recriminations and Russian and Syrian government aircraft launched a ferocious air assault on the besieged city of Aleppo.
The bombardment has been described as intense, with Western countries accusing Moscow of committing war crimes and prompting calls for the U.S. to intervene more muscularly to pressure Russia and the Assad regime to halt them and begin negotiating again.
Former State Department officials and Syria watchers have suggested that the strikes could take the form of hitting Syrian air force facilities, destroying aircraft that have dropped bombs on civilians and cratering runways. Besides the strikes, the U.S. is said to be considering providing rebels inside Syria with heavier weaponry.
It was also unclear whether Russia would actually down a U.S. plane attacking a target in Syria, but it raised the possibility again of a serious crisis between Russia and America, with tensions recently reaching new highs. But the odds that the Obama administration will approve military intervention in Syria still seem like a long shot.
“I will be very, very surprised,” Robert Ford, the last U.S. ambassador to Syria, said in an interview this week. Ford, who left the State Department in frustration that the U.S. was not providing greater support to the armed Syrian opposition, said he did not believe the administration’s calculus that U.S. intervention may bring more harm than good had changed.
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