(CNSNews.com) – Amid deepening U.S.-Russia tensions over the crisis in Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that Moscow hopes those in Washington pushing for attacks against the Assad regime will not prevail.
Publicly, Obama administration officials have only confirmed that government agencies are considering options that include military, diplomatic, intelligence and economic ones, in response to the continuing Russia-Syria assault in Aleppo following a collapsed ceasefire.
But a Washington Post report early this week said limited military strikes against the Assad regime was one option being discussed, and indicated that the CIA and Joint Chiefs of Staff leaned in favor of such an approach.
“We keep reading reports that some in Washington are eager to use force. This is no secret,” Lavrov said after meeting with his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault. “I do hope that they will not gain the upper hand, though.”
Lavrov said in all his many conversations with Secretary of State John Kerry – more than 55 calls and some 10 personal meetings this year – he had never indicated that the Syria conflict could have a military solution. (Kerry has stated repeatedly since coming to the State Department that there is no military solution to the civil war.)
Earlier Thursday, Russia’s defense ministry spokesman told a briefing that any attack against Assad regime targets would put Russian military personnel operating in danger.
In a thinly-veiled threat to retaliate against any American strike, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov pointedly warned that Russian missile defense system operators would not have time to establish the nationality of any incoming missile. He added that Russia’s S-300 and S-400 surface-to-air missile defense systems deployed in Syria have ranges that “may prove a surprise to any unidentified flying object.”
“A number of influential Western media published leaks on discussion in the White House administration of a possibility to deliver missile and air strikes on the positions of Syrian troops,” Konashenkov said.
“I would recommend colleagues in Washington to thoroughly analyze the consequences of implementation of such plans.”
Konashenkov also indicated that Russia was prepared for any supposedly accidental U.S. attack. A U.S.-led coalition airstrike mistakenly hit Syrian troops rather than ISIS terrorists near Deir ez-Zor last month.
“I draw attention of hotheads that after a strike on Syrian troops in Deir ez-Zor by planes of the coalition on September 17, we have taken all necessary measures to rule out any such mistakes against Russian military and military facilities in Syria,” he said. (Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency, quoting the spokesman, put the word “mistakes” in inverted commas.)
Asked Thursday about Konashenkov’s warning, State Department spokesman John Kirby said, “nobody wants to see an escalation in violence or tensions between the United States and Russia on this issue.”
He reiterated the discussions were continuing within the administration on options for Syria and that “not all of those options revolve around diplomacy.”
“I’ve seen the comments out of Moscow,” Kirby said. “Those comments notwithstanding, that conversation inside the U.S. government continues.”
Later in the briefing Kirby – himself a former Pentagon press secretary – said that military options “bear risk.”
“They expend resources, and they certainly – just by dint of the fact that they’re military – are going to not de-escalate the tension, not going to bring down the violence necessarily,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean they’re off the table. It just means that, in consideration of them, we have to factor all of that in.”
Russia has deployed S-300 and S-400 systems at the Hmeymim airbase near Latakia and its Cold War-era naval station in Tartus, facilities which it has used in its year-long airstrike campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad. It introduced the latter system after a Turkish fighter plane shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber last November, and the S-300s in recent days at Tartus.
Asked about the S-300s this week, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the deployment did not seem consistent with Russia’s stated goal in Syria of fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda – “neither of which, the last time I checked, have an air force.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest made a similar comment when asked about the S-300s: “I’m not aware that ISIL or al-Qaeda in Syria is operating aircraft there.”
In reaction, the Russian Embassy posted a tweet featuring a photo of Earnest alongside an S-300 launcher. Responding to the White House spokesman’s wondering why Russia would want to deploy the missiles in Syria, the message said, “Because you never really know what kind of assistance terrorists might get.”
The taunt alludes to Russia’s allegation that U.S. support for some Syrian rebels amounts to backing terrorists – due in part to blurred lines and alliances of convenience between anti-Assad groups of varying stripes.
The Assad regime contends that all rebel groups fighting against it are terrorists.