Russia Indicates It Will Shoot Down Coalition Jets That Strike Assad Forces

S-300 missile systems
S-300 missile systems / AP

The Russian Defense Ministry indicated Thursday that it would shoot down U.S.-led coalition jets that target Bashar al Assad’s forces with air strikes in Syria.

The warning followed a Washington Post report that the Obama administration was again considering targeting Assad regime forces with strikes, after Russian and Syrian air strikes hammered civilians in the war-torn region of Aleppo as the latest ceasefire deal broke down.

Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said at a briefing Thursday that any strikes against Syrian government forces would present a "clear threat" to Russian forces on the ground, according to statements published in Russian media outlets and other sources.

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"Any missile or air strikes on the territory controlled by the Syrian government will create a clear threat to Russian servicemen," Konashenkov said. He urged the U.S. military to "carefully consider the possible consequences" of such strikes.

His remarks came one day after Russia announced that it had deployed more advanced missile defense systems to Syria.

"Today, the Syrian army has effective S-200, Buk, and other air defense systems, which have undergone technical renovation in the past year," Konashenkov said Thursday.

"I remind US ‘strategists’ that air cover for the Russian military bases in Tartus and Hmeymim includes S-400 and S-300 anti aircraft missile systems, the range of which may come as a surprise to any unidentified flying objects," he said.

Konashenkov also suggested that Moscow forces would not "have time" to determine what country was responsible for a hypothetical strike targeting pro-government forces before responding.

"Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a ‘straight line’ the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to. And all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ jets will face a disappointing reality," Konashenkov said.

Asked to respond to the statement, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook underscored the importance of the memorandum of understanding established between the U.S. and Russia last October to avoid miscalculations and potential problems above Syrian airspace.

"The MOU, up to this point, has served its purpose," Cook told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday afternoon. "We’ll leave it to the Russians to participate in that as they see fit."

Cook said that the U.S. military is "always taking precautions with regards to the safety of our aircrews" as well as those of its allies.

The United States on Monday halted communications with Russia regarding Syria in the wake of the bungled ceasefire, shortly after Moscow said that it was suspending a nuclear pact with Washington to clean up weapons-grade plutonium.

Still, Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, spoke over the phone Wednesday about Syria and other issues amid the suspension of communications.