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.
The Russian military is considering the possibility of regaining its Soviet-era bases on Cuba and in Vietnam, the Defense Ministry said Friday, a statement that comes amid growing U.S.-Russia tensions over Syria.
Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told lawmakers Friday that the ministry is considering the possibility of establishing footholds far away from Russia's borders.
Responding to a lawmaker's question if the military could return to Cuba and Vietnam, Pankov said the military is "reviewing" a decision to withdraw from them, but didn't offer any specifics. "As for our presence on faraway outposts, we are doing this work," he said.
In 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to pull back from Cuba and Vietnam as he sought to bolster ties with the United States. The U.S.-Russian relations now have plunged to the lowest point since the Cold War times amid strain over Syria and Ukraine.
Moscow has lamented that Washington never appreciated Putin's goodwill gesture.
Asked Friday about the possibility of the Russian military's return to Cuba and Vietnam, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from specific comment, but added that the global situation requires various players to mull possible responses.
"Naturally, all countries assess those changes from the point of view of their national interests and take steps they consider necessary," he told reporters.
When Putin ordered the military withdrawal from Cuba and Vietnam, Russia was still reeling from its post-Soviet economic meltdown. Putin cited the need to cut costs when he explained reasons behind his move to the military.
Windfall oil revenues in recent years have filled the government's coffers with petrodollars, allowing the Kremlin to fund an ambitions weapons modernization program and turn the military into a more mobile modern force.
Amid the deterioration of ties with the West, the military began pondering plans to re-establish its global presence. A small naval supply facility in the Syrian port of Tartus is now the navy's only outpost outside the former Soviet Union.
Oleg Nilov of A Just Russia, one of the factions in the Kremlin-controlled lower house, pointed at the U.S. and its NATO allies' deployment near Russian borders as he argued that Russia needs to regain its Soviet-era bases
"It's time to reach agreements to return to faraway outposts if they don't understand the language of diplomacy," he said during debates.
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.
"The S-300 appeared there [in Syria] after experts close to the American establishment had started leaking information…that the US could hit Syrian airfields with cruise missiles," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in an interview with Russia's Dozhd TV chennel.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that a battery of S-300 air defense systems had been delivered to Syria to protect the naval base at Tartus, as well as Russia warships deployed off the Syrian coast.
Earlier, Zakharova critized US Secretary of State John Kerry's statements on launching an investigation into "war crimes of the Russian Federation."
"This is propaganda," Zakharova said in an interview with TV channel Rain. "For this terminology has very serious legal consequences, and I think that Kerry tried all of these terms from the perspective of the discharge situation.
"If it comes to war crimes, US officials must begin with Iraq. And then go to Libya, be sure to go to Yemen — find out what's there. I want to say to juggle these words is very dangerous, because behind the American representatives really are war crimes."
After months of speculation whether the US would officially accuse Russia of being responsible for various intrusions and hacks, primarily involving the Democratic party, moments ago we finally got the long-anticipated confirmation when the US named Russia as the actor behind the hacking attempts on political organizations and, more importantly, state election systems and accused Putin of carrying out a wide-ranging campaign to interfere with the 2016 elections, including by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political officials.
In a statement, the US "intelligence community" said that it is “confident” that the Russian government “directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations”, the Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence on Election Security said in a joint statement.
The US added that “these thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process”.
The administration also blamed Moscow for the hack of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the subsequent leak of private email addresses and cell phone numbers of Democratic lawmakers. A series of other leaks of hacked material followed, all of which are suspected of being conducted by Russia-sponsored hackers.
Russia has denied any connection to the hacks. As the official statement by the DHS and ODNI notes, the actual party doing the accusation of Russia is the US intelligence community, which as recently as a month ago was breached itself when a domestic "Snowden 2.0", Harold T. Martin, was arrested recently after obtaining and attempting to sell an unknown number of internal NSA programs.
While we are confident that Putin is laughing at this statement and/or threat, a question emerges: since the US has said it would treat cyberattacks by "foreign state powers" as the equivalent of an act of war, will the US now escalate and use this "naming of Russia" as a global master hacker (we assume the recent NSA hack will not be blamed on the Kremlin too, now that an American was arrested), as a pretext to accelerate diplomatic and/or military actions against Russia.
The battle for Aleppo has gripped the world, but it is hardly the only major front among the tangle of adversaries clashing across war-torn Syria.
Opposition forces are on the offensive in the country's center trying to sever the government's connection between Aleppo and the capital, Damascus, which is itself at the edge of a major theater of the war. In the northwest, Turkish-backed opposition forces are battling Islamic State militants, while to the east government forces are weathering an Islamic State siege of Deir El-Zour.
So, where are we, and how did we get here?
Five years ago, Obama declared that Assad must step down. Ignoring him, Assad went all out to crush the rebels, both those we backed and the Islamist terrorists.
Obama then drew a “red line,” declaring that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would lead to U.S. strikes. But when Obama readied military action in 2013, Americans rose up and roared, “No!”
Reading the country right, Congress refused to authorize U.S. military action. Egg all over his face, Obama again backed down.
When Assad began losing the war, Putin stepped in to save his lone Arab ally, and swiftly reversed Assad’s fortunes.
Now, with 10,000 troops — Syrian, Iraqi Shiite militia, Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Afghan mercenaries — poised to attack Aleppo, backed by Russian air power, Assad may be on the cusp of victory in the bloodiest and most decisive battle of the war.
Assad and his allies intend to end this war — by winning it.
For the U.S. to reverse his gains now, and effect his removal, would require the introduction of massive U.S. air power and U.S. troops, and congressional authorization for war in Syria.
The time has come to recognize and accept reality.
While the U.S. and its Turkish, Kurdish and Sunni allies, working with the Assad coalition of Russia, Hezbollah and the Iranians, can crush ISIS and al-Qaida in Syria, we cannot defeat the Assad coalition — not without risking a world war.
And Congress would never authorize such a war, nor would the American people sustain it.
As of today, there is no possibility that the rebels we back could defeat ISIS and the al-Nusra Front, let alone bring down Bashar Assad and run the Russians, Hezbollah, Iran and the Iraqi Shiite militias out of Syria.
Time to stop the killing, stop the carnage, stop the war and get the best terms for peace we can get. For continuing this war, when the prospects of victory are nil, raises its own question of morality.
Russia moving nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad, says Estonia
Estonian officials have said that Russia appears to be moving powerful, nuclear capable missiles into Kaliningrad, a Russian outpost province sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania along the Baltic coast.
The Iskander-M missiles, which have a range of over 500km, are reportedly being transported by ship from the St Petersburg area. It had previously been reported that the Russians might seek to place the Iskander-M missiles in Kaliningrad but not until 2018-19.Estonian officials have said that Russia appears to be moving powerful, nuclear capable missiles into Kaliningrad, a Russian outpost province sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania along the Baltic coast.
The Iskander-M missiles, which have a range of over 500km, are reportedly being transported by ship from the St Petersburg area. It had previously been reported that the Russians might seek to place the Iskander-M missiles in Kaliningrad but not until 2018-19.
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