The Russian military on Thursday warned the United States against striking Syrian government forces, saying Moscow was prepared to use its air defense weapons to protect them.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that the Russian military won’t have time to contact its US counterparts if they see missiles on their way to a target — indicating it would strike back without warning should Syrian forces be attacked.
Konashenkov voiced concern about media reports to the effect that Washington is considering strikes on Syrian troops. He said that strikes on government-controlled areas could threaten Russian forces there.
A US-led coalition airstrike killed over 60 Syrian government soldiers last month. The US said the strike was unintentional and had been targeting the Islamic State group, but Moscow questions this account.
Russia has been conducting a bombing campaign in Syria for the past year and is currently backing up a fierce regime assault on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, sparking international condemnation.
The warning from Moscow came a day after the Russian Defense Ministry said that it had sent an S-300 air defense missile system to its naval facility in the Syrian city of Tartus, a measure it said is meant to bolster its security.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the Russian missile system, considered one of the best in the world, would not affect operations in the US-led air campaign against the Islamic State in northern Syria, and questioned why Moscow was making the move.
“Last I checked, the Russians said that their primary goal was to fight extremism, ISIL and Nusra, in Syria,” he said, referring to IS and another group formerly known as Al-Nusra Front.
“Neither one has an air force… So this is something we’ll watch carefully. But it should be clear to the Russians and everybody else operating in Syria how seriously we take the safety of our air crews.”
On Monday the US said it was suspending negotiations with Russia to revive a failed ceasefire in Syria and set up a joint center to coordinate the fight against jihadists, saying Moscow had “failed to live up to its own commitments” and stepped up its military operations instead.
A senior Russian official said in August that Russia was planning to expand its Hmeimim Air Base in Syria into a permanent military facility.
The air base already has an S-400 air defense system, the most modern in Russia’s arsenal.