Russian officials warn of possible military clash with US over Syria

first_imgShare on Twitter This article is more than 1 year old news This article is more than 1 year old Middle East and North Africa Russia Reuse this content Share on Facebook Topics Share via Email Share via Email Tue 10 Apr 2018 09.20 EDT Read more Support The Guardian Read more Shares316316 Russia Syria provides John Bolton with first test as Trump’s national security adviser The USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer, was deployed to the eastern Mediterranean this week.Photograph: AFP/Getty Images Andrew Roth in Moscow Destroying Syria’s air force is one option for Trump Syria Last modified on Sat 14 Apr 2018 13.53 EDT The Guardian view on Syria: don’t blindly follow Donald Trump Share on Twitter Read more Russian officials warn of possible military clash with US over Syria Russian officials and analysts have warned of the dangers of a military clash with the United States if Donald Trump orders a military strike in Syria in response to the chemical attack in rebel-held Douma at the weekend.One Russian politician involved in defence policy called it the most dangerous moment in US-Russian relations since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The chief of staff of Russia’s armed forces said last month that Russia would shoot down incoming missiles and attack their launching platforms if a US strike on Syria threatened Russian military personnel.“The US and Russia are now closer to a direct collision between their military forces than at any time since the cold war,” Dmitri Trenin, the head of the Carnegie Moscow Centre and a former Soviet military officer, wrote on Monday. “The only question on my mind: will Russia hit back at the US when it launches strikes against Damascus?” Similar concerns of a direct clash were raised after the Khan Sheikhun chemical attack that killed dozens of people a year ago, when Trump ordered a Tomahawk missile strike against the Syrian regime’s al-Shayrat airbase.Russian forces did not engage the US Tomahawk missiles using its air defence systems stationed in the region, either because they would have been ineffective in repelling the attack or because they had been told to stand down. The US gave Russia advance warning of that attack through a deconfliction notice. Gerasimov said Russian military advisers and members of several Russian missions to Syria, including military police and conflict resolution specialists, were based in Damascus at the headquarters of the Syrian defence ministry and at other Syrian military sites.“In the case of a threat to the lives of our servicemen, the Russian military armed forces will take response measures against both the rockets, and the platforms from which they’re fired,” he said.Moscow has made similar threats in the past, including last September as US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces troops met Russian-backed Syrian government forces on territory held by Islamic State in eastern Syria. On Tuesday the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Moscow would propose a UN security council resolution on investigating the chemical attack in Douma, which Syrian forces have denied carrying out. Russia has previously vetoed a joint investigative mechanism between the OPCW and the UN into chemical attacks in Syria, citing bias.Lavrov’s deputy, Mikhail Bogdanov, called the threat of a strike “extremely dangerous” but said he did not think a direct military clash with the US was likely. “I think it does not exist,” he told journalists. “I believe that common sense should prevail over insanity.”On Monday Trump promised “major decisions” by Wednesday on a response to the Douma attack. Russian officials at the UN have said both that there is no evidence any chemical attack took place and that it was a “false flag” provocation to give a pretext for the US to launch strikes.The USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer, was deployed to the eastern Mediterranean this week after a port call in Cyprus. The Black Sea fleet announced on Tuesday that crews manning its advanced S-400 air defence systems were holding training drills.A former Russian admiral told Interfax that the ship’s presence was “an escalation” but he believed the US was mainly trying to scare Russia.“I think that the United States will not openly decide to launch a strike against Syria with our ships and submarines in the Mediterranean Sea, along with the recent warning issued by our chief of staff [Gerasimov],” he said. Share on WhatsApp Russian military brass have signalled that the response may be different this time. In March, Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, said that if the US sought to strike Syria in response to a chemical attack, Russia would use its air defence systems and other weapons to respond in case of a threat to Russian servicemen in the region. 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