Russia Warns US After Military Claims It Can 'Take Down' Air Defenses: 'All Plans Look Good Until a Battle Begins'

Russia has hit back after the United States military claimed it could take down advanced air defenses in the Kaliningrad region and reportedly practiced doing so earlier this year.

General Jeff Harrigan, Commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, told reporters this month that "if we have to go in there to take down, for instance, the Kaliningrad IADS [Integrated Air Defense System], let there be no doubt we have a plan to go after that," according to Breaking Defense. He added: "We train to that. We think through those plans all the time, and... if that would ever come to fruition, we'd be ready to execute."

While the top official did not go into details, he said such an operation "would be a multi-domain, very timely and effective." The National Interest published a follow-up piece Thursday, citing a previous exercise in which independent imagery analyst Stephen Watkins said B-52 strategic bombers carried out a mock missile attack on Kaliningrad in March.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova responded Friday, calling Harrigan's words "a threat" and "absolutely irresponsible" as Moscow reacted with outrage.

russia air defense baltic fleet
Russian Baltic Fleet air defense units train to repel a simulated enemy attack on an S-300 surface-to-air missile system position, March 16, 2017. Russian Ministry of Defense

The Russian diplomat told a press conference that the U.S. comments were indicative of "how easy it is for the political elite, in particular in the United States, to deal with such serious and very complex issues as world security and stability, acting in an irresponsible manner on the basis of political and market considerations, including, as we understand, its own electoral processes."

"The main thing is that all this is an indicator of not only irresponsibility, but also stupidity," she added. "Smart, far-sighted people who truly express the interests of the people who appoint or elect them to their respective positions will never make such statements, realizing that they cause reputational damage to the country they represent."

She then referred reporters to the Russian Defense Ministry, which issued its own statement, arguing that "Russia's Kaliningrad Region is well protected from any aggressive 'plans' being developed in Europe by visiting American generals," according to the ministry's official news outlet, Zvezda. The ministry argued that air defenses deployed to the Baltic exclave could track and neutralize any incoming jets sent by the U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance.

"This fully applies to the 'invisible' fifth-generation American fighters, which are invisible only for American taxpayers and foreign buyers," the ministry added, noting NATO member Turkey's decision to risk its F-35 purchase by acquiring Russia's advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The statement said Harrigan's words should cause concern for U.S. soldiers as "all plans look good until a battle begins."

Kaliningrad Governor Anton Alikhanov also spoke out against the remarks, telling the state-run Tass Russian News Agency that "we are not going to be engaged with invitations but we certainly have no fear." He added: "We host the Baltic Fleet's main base. Given the morale and the technical prowess of the troops in Kaliningrad, I wouldn't advise anyone to risk messing with our military."

The politician also recommended "that all U.S. generals read some history books about those who plotted against the Russian state and the consequences they had to face because the Russian people know how to respond to every American general who has plans. I think history should have taught our partners and opponents a lesson long ago."

Kaliningrad is located in Europe between Poland and Lithuania, two NATO member countries that host multinational battle groups designed to counter what the 29-member defense pact considered Russian aggression in the region. Relations between Moscow and NATO worsened significantly after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and was accused of backing a separatist insurgency in the neighboring country's east amid a political uprising in Kyiv.

As a first line of defense, Kaliningrad has been equipped with both S-300 and S-400 systems, as well as an array of other weapons such as the Bastion coastal defense system and nuclear-capable Iskander-M mobile short-range ballistic missile systems. It's also a frequent venue for Russian military exercises.

On Saturday, Russia's Steregushchy-class corvette Boikiy and Neustrashimyy-class frigate Yaroslav the Wise conducted missile training off the coast of Kaliningrad. The following day, Iskander combat crews fended off a simulated enemy attack on the region.

As for the U.S., the Pentagon's own missile defenses have been subject to Russian criticism since failing to detect or intercept an attack on Saudi oil facilities Saturday. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "We've seen air defense systems all around the world have mixed success. Some of the finest in the world don't always pick things up."