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 limited 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, which the Joint Chief of Staffs and the CIA are now said to favor, according to the Post, would see missiles fired at Assad air force bases, intended to punish the regime for its failure to abide by the cease-fire, hamper attacks against civilians and pressure it and Moscow to begin negotiating again.
Although, the strikes are now back on the table, President Obama is still very unlikely to approve them, according to administration officials speaking to the Post, as well as former State Department officials and outside analysts.
Moscow though has sought to head-off any U.S. intervention. Major-General Igor Konashenkov, the Russian defense ministry spokesman, directly addressed the reports in a briefing on Thursday, when he warned that Russia may shoot down any aircraft attacking Syrian government forces.
Konashenkov, however, suggested Russia would target any unidentified aircraft attacking Syrian government targets and warned "American strategists" not to assume a covert intervention would go unanswered. “The illusions of dilettantes about the existence of 'stealth' aircraft may encounter a disappointing reality,” he added. Konashenkov also warned that Russian troops were now widely deployed across Syria, implying any strikes could hit them, pulling the U.S. into conflict with Russia.
While it remains unclear whether Russia would actually down an American plane attacking a target in Syria, the possibility threatened to push the conflict out into a new stage, with Russia and the U.S. placed in the most direct stand-off of anytime since the Syrian war began.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the decision to deploy S-300 anti-air missile system in Syria came after receiving leaked data on US intentions to bomb Syrian airbases.