The United States launched a strike against the Syrian air base on Thursday that was believed to be tied to Tuesday’s chemical weapon attack that left dozens, including children dead. Immediately following the strike, reports began to emerge of the United States providing Russian troops in the region an early warning, in order to prevent a potentially dangerous escalation of tensions between the two military powers backing disparate parties in the six-year civil war that has ravaged the nation.
Concerns about how the Kremlin would interpret this strike, and how they would respond, were likely on the minds of many American service members throughout the evening, as the world waited with bated breath to find out if the United States’ actions would be interpreted as an act of war by the Assad regime, or if the strike would be construed internationally as a single military action intended to demonstrate that the United States would not sit idly by while weapons of mass destruction were unleashed on innocent civilians.
While this distinction seems like mere semantics, the way Syria and Russia interpret the United States actions will have far-reaching effects on how matters progress in the war-torn nation – currently amidst a multi-sided civil war while maintaining continuous operations intended to root ISIS out of their self-proclaimed capital, which also lies in Syria.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded Friday morning by announcing that Russia has officially suspended a military cooperation agreement with the United States in Syria that allowed the two states to coordinate air strikes in such a manner as to limit the potential for conflict between U.S. and Russian forces.
Peskov claimed that the agreement was intended to decrease the danger between U.S. and Russian jets, and in light of last night’s attack, such an agreement was no longer necessary.
“Amid the missile strikes, it is hardly reasonable to talk about any more increase in the risk, as the risk has increased considerably,” Peskov said at a news briefing Friday morning.
Vladimir Putin held a meeting Friday morning with members of the Russian security council, in which “Washington’s actions were again qualified as “aggression and a violation of international law,” according to a press release provided by the Kremlin.
“In order to protect the most sensitive objects of the Syrian infrastructure, a system of measures to bolster and increase the effectiveness of the Syrian armed forces’ air defense systems will be implemented,” ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement carried on Russian state media.
Vladimir Putin’s press service also released a brief statement outlining the Russian president’s stance on last night’s military action, which you can read in full below:
The President of Russia regards the US airstrikes on Syria as an act of aggression against a sovereign state delivered in violation of international law under a far-fetched pretext. The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons. The fact of the destruction of all Syrian chemical weapons’ stockpiles has been recorded and verified by the OPCW, a specialised UN body. Vladimir Putin believes that complete disregard for factual information about the use by terrorists of chemical weapons drastically aggravates the situation.
This move by Washington [the US strike on an air base in Syria] has dealt a serious blow to Russian-US relations, which are already in a poor state. Most importantly, this move will not bring us closer to the ultimate goal of combatting international terrorism but will instead create a major obstacle to the establishment of an international counterterrorist coalition and to effective struggle against this global evil, something that US President Donald Trump declared as one of his main goals during his election campaign.
Vladimir Putin regards the US strikes on Syria as an attempt to draw public attention away from the numerous civilian casualties in Iraq.
On Friday, the United States launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at an air base in Homs Province in western Syria.”
It is important to note that despite these statements each being critical of President Trump’s decision to take action in Syria, they do not elevate the rhetoric toward war, nor do they suggest that the Russian military will take any type of direct action in response to the strike.
Although Russia has promised to help bolster air defenses for the Syrian government, even that is nothing more than a passive measure directed toward the potential for further strikes, rather than a decisive declaration toward a full break from the aligned pursuit of ousting terrorist groups like ISIS from the region.
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