MOSCOW: The Russian military on Thursday strongly warned the United States against striking the Syrian army, noting that its air defence weapons in Syria stand ready to fend off any attack.
The statement underlined high tensions between Moscow and Washington after the collapse of a US-Russia-brokered Syria truce and the Syrian army’s offensive on Aleppo backed by Russian warplanes.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said any US strikes on areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government could jeopardise the lives of Russian servicemen.
He said Moscow was worried by media reports alleging that Washington was pondering the possibility of striking Syrian army positions. “I would recommend our colleagues in Washington to carefully weigh possible consequences of the fulfillment of such plans,” Konashenkov said.
Russia responded with dismay to the US-led coalition’s air raid on Syrian army positions near Deir el-Zour that killed 60 Syrian soldiers on Sept 17, rejecting the US explanation that the attack was a mistake.
Konashenkov said “we have taken all the necessary measures to prevent any such ‘mistakes’ with regard to Russian servicemen and military facilities in Syria.” He said the range of Russia’s S-300 and S-400 air defence missile systems deployed to Syria would be a “surprise” to any country operating its aircraft over the country.
Konashenkov added that the Syrian army also has various Soviet- and Russian-built air defence missile systems, which have undergone modernisation over the past year.
Since Russia has launched its air campaign in Syria in support of Assad’s forces a year ago, the Russia and the US militaries have maintained contacts to prevent any midair incidents between Russian warplanes and the aircraft from the US-led coalition in the skies over Syria.
Konashenkov warned, however, that the Russian military won’t have time to use the hotline if it sees missiles on their way to targets in Syria. “It must be understood that Russian air defence missile crews will unlikely have time to clarify via the hotline the exact flight programme of the missiles or the ownership of their carriers,” he added.
In an apparent hint at the US stealth aircraft, he added that any “dilettante illusions about stealth planes could collide with disappointing realities.” The Russian military announced on Tuesday that a battery of the S-300 air defence missile systems had been sent to Syria to protect a Russian facility in the Syrian port of Tartus and Russian navy ships off the Mediterranean coast.
Tartus is the only naval supply facility Russia has outside the former Soviet Union. The deployment has added more punch to the Russian military force in Syria, which already includes long-range S-400 missile defence systems and an array of other surface-to-air missiles at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.
Russia has conducted an air campaign in support of Assad since Sept 30, 2015, saving his army from imminent defeat and helping it win key ground.