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Russia boasts of practising shooting down missiles as US considers air strike on Syria

Russia has boasted it is practising shooting down missiles as the country’s parliamentary hardliners demanded a military response to any US air strike on Syria

The Russian defence ministry said that naval jets from its Pacific fleet had conducted exercises to “intercept and destroy a low-flying long-range cruise missile”.

Two former Russian officers turned politicians called on the Kremlin to use military force should Donald Trump approve an attack on the Syrian regime. 

Meanwhile Mr Trump, the US president, was under growing pressure from his own senators to follow through on tough rhetoric over the Syrian chemical attack. 

Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, said that failing to approve a military response would be “the biggest mistake of his presidency”. 

Leading Western countries are debating how to punish Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, for a suspected chemical attack that killed at least 60 Syrians, including children, on Saturday. 

Britain, France and the United States were all co-ordinating over possible action after issuing hard-hitting comments about the attack on Douma, the last rebel-held town in Eastern Ghouta.

The Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian backers have all denied chemical weapons were used in the attack. 

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, insisted on Tuesday that Moscow would continue trying to solve the Syria crisis through talks. 

He said Russia would be “actively working in the diplomatic theatre” despite America’s claims over chemical weapons use. 

However Russian hawks were pushing for a tougher stances.  Senator Frants Klintsevich, a former colonel in Russia’s vaunted paratrooper forces, said “Russia should shoot down these Tomahawks” if a US destroyer off the Syrian coast launches cruise missiles.

Donald Trump, the US president, has said he will respond ‘forcefully’ to the Syrian chemical attack

Credit:
REUTERS/Leah Millis

Vladimir Shamanov, head of the defence committee in parliament, said at a meeting of the ruling United Russia party that Moscow would respond to “illicit actions” in Syria and take “military measures if necessary”.

He added: “We won’t let the Americans hammer nails on someone else’s anvil.” 

There were also reports about Russia’s military activity ahead of a possible air strike from America, though the details remained unclear. 

NBC News reported that the Russian military has been jamming US drones over Syria, “seriously affecting” American military operations.

The French magazine Le Point reported that a Russian warplane this weekend flew over a French warship at low altitude in the eastern Mediterranean. 

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that four Russian jets had buzzed the US destroyer Donald Cook, which Russian media reported had come within 100km of the Russia’s Syria airbase, but a Pentagon spokesperson denied this to state news agency TASS.

Analysts expressed doubt that Russia’s top-of-the-line S-400 surface-to-air missile could take down American Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Alexander Golts, an independent analyst, said: “Last year they were writing that these missiles flew high and for the S-400 they were too far to hit.”

Ruslan Leviev of the Conflict Intelligence Team, which monitors military developments Syria, said: “Even if they have the ability, we assume Russian forces won’t do this”.

On Tuesday, joint war games between Russian and Belarusian paratroopers entered their “active phase” near Brest, including live fire exercises, the Belarusian defence ministry said.

In America, Mr Trump was under pressure from Republicans to follow through on his weekend tweets, when the president warned there would be a “big price to pay” for the chemical attack. 

Mr Graham, who plays golf with Mr Trump, called on Mr Assad to be a target for any air strike. He told CNN: “I would go after all the infrastructure around his air capability. 

Affected Syrian kids wait to receive medical treatment after Assad regime forces allegedly conducted poisonous gas attack to Duma town of Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria on April 07, 2018

Credit:
Halil el-Abdullah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“I would hit his intelligence services who are complicit in war crimes. I would make Assad a target because I think he’s a war criminal.”

Mr Graham added:  “Trump says he’s going to pay a big price. If at the end of the day he doesn’t pay a big price then we President Trump becomes like Obama – weak in the eyes of our enemies and unreliable in the eyes of our allies”.

However in the battered Damascus suburb of Douma, the site of Saturday’s alleged chemical weapons attack, exhausted residents expressed little enthusiasm for the prospect of US air strikes. 

Many of the area’s residents were packing up their bombed out homes and preparing to be evacuated under a deal struck between rebel factions and advancing regime forces.  “It’s too late.

A million Syrians are dead and millions more are refugees,” said one man, who asked to be identified as Abu Bashir. 

“They want to give Assad a light slap to protect their honour and then let him continue killing the rest of the Free Syrians.”

“We don’t rely on Trump,” said Haitham, who asked that his surname not be published. “Trump is not a genuine fighter. The genuine fighter is Putin, who is defending the regime by all available means. If Trump hits the regime it is just to embarrass Putin.”

Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/10/russia-boasts-practising-shooting-missiles-us-considers-air/

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