Russia, U.S. allies, and President Donald Trump’s own far-right base reacted yesterday to the news that the United States, on President Trump’s orders, launched a military strike on a Syrian government airbase in response to a chemical attack in Idlib province that killed more than 80 civilians. Although many countries around the world praised the unilateral attack on Bashar al-Assad’s regime, tensions between Russia––currently the subject of a probe into interference in last year’s presidential election––and the United States flared, with the former nation condemning the assault as an “act of aggression” while Trump faced scathing criticism from the far-right voters, who feel Trump betrayed a key non-intervention campaign promise.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, claimed the attack, which targeted the Shayrat Air Base in western Syria and left at least seven people dead, was conducted under “far-fetched pretext.”
“[Vladimir] Putin views the U.S. strikes on Syria as aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law,” Peskov said in a message via Russian state media. “Washington’s step will inflict major damage on U.S.-Russia ties.”
Peskov reiterated remarks he made earlier this week that the chemical attacks were the result not of Assad’s actions but rebel bombings of chemical plants––a claim derided as false by eye-witnesses and the international community. Earlier today, a host of Russian lawmakers vigorously defended the Kremlin, telling local news outlets that the airstrike calls into doubt the possibility of a united Russia-U.S. front against terrorism.
“We have to think about negative consequences, negative consequences, and all the responsibility if military action occurred will be on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise,” Russian UN envoy Vladimir Safronkov said in a statement. “Look at Iraq, look at Libya.”
Although the indignation of Russian dignitaries took center stage in Moscow, questions remained about to what extent Russian forces or assets were in harm’s way when the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airbase. The Pentagon said in a statement last night that it had notified Russian forces in advance of the strike “using the established deconfliction line.” The statement indicated that “U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian[s] or personnel located at the airfield.”
A Syrian opposition group praised the U.S. for the strike, suggesting that American involvement “could really be [an] opportunity” to end Syria’s civil war.
“We welcome these strikes,” Najib Ghadbian, special representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the United States and the United Nations, told reporters. “They are first good steps but we would like them to be part of a bigger strategy that would put an end to the mass killing, an end to impunity and eventually we hope that they will lead to a kind of a political transition [in Syria].”
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile while conducting naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. (Credit: Source.)
Ghadbian further praised President Trump for exhibiting “U.S. leadership to counterbalance the two powers that were providing support to Assad: Russia and Iran.” He accused former President Barack Obama’s administration of emboldening Russian and Iranian coalitions “by taking away the military option.”
“God bless Trump, but the story does not end here,” said Bayan Al Qalamumni, a former official who now lives as a refugee in Turkey. “The Syrian people have tasted too much bitterness to be happy that one airport was struck. The criminal must be brought to justice before the entire world.”
Talal Barazi, the governor of Syria’s Homs province, which is home to Shayrat Air Base, was far less enthused about the prospect of American involvement.
“We are not surprised today to see the [terrorists’] supporting parties interfering directly after the failure of terrorists in targeting Syria,” he told local media outlets. “We will not be surprised to see the Americans playing a direct role on the ground to support its means everywhere.”
Assad’s office decried the attack as “reckless, irresponsible behavior.”