Russia has issued one of its strongest warnings yet against Western intervention in Syria, hinting it may respond with its own missiles.
Washington has reportedly been considering limited airstrikes on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
The Defence Ministry in Moscow reportedly believes such an attack would threaten its troops operating Russian missile systems deployed in the country. They would respond immediately as they would not have time to identify the flight paths of incoming rockets or aircraft, according to a spokesman.
“I would recommend that our Washington colleagues carefully consider the possible consequences of implementing such plans. I would like to remind US strategists that air cover for Russian airbases in Hmeymim and Tartus is provided by S-400 and S-300 air defence systems, whose radius of action could become a surprise for any unidentified flying objects,” said Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.
Washington has responded by saying that its deliberations about possible non-diplomatic options continue.
“I’ve seen the comments out of Moscow. Those comments notwithstanding, that conversation inside the US government continues,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
The comments came as the diplomatic void was filled by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on a trip to Moscow.
As the Syrian army tightens its grip on Aleppo, rebels have said they have no plan to evacuate the city, denouncing an amnesty offer by Damascus as a trap.
“It’s impossible for the rebel groups to leave Aleppo because this would be a trick by the regime,” Zakaria Malahifji, a Turkey-based official for the Fastaqim group which is present in Aleppo, told Reuters.
The United Nations is warning of catastrophe. Its special envoy to Syria Staffan De Mistura has said eastern Aleppo faces total ruin resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians.
“In maximum two months, two and a half months, the city of eastern Aleppo at this rate may be totally destroyed. We are talking about the old city in particular, and thousands of Syrians, civilians not terrorists, will be killed. And many of them wounded – and thousands and thousands of them may try to become refugees,” he said.
Damascus has said rebels can leave with their families if they lay down their arms – but anyone who remains will face an “inevitable fate”.
Washington has dismissed the idea that Assad’s forces would protect people. “For them to suggest that somehow they’re looking out for the interests of civilians is outrageous”, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, citing the heavy civilian death toll from airstrikes and bombardment.
In an interview with Danish television, the Syrian president said there was “no other option” to his forces continuing the fight to oust rebels from Aleppo.