MESOP NEWS REPORTING : Russia Warns of “Extremely Serious” Consequences After US Strikes — But What Will It Do?
April 08 – By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – Russia is cautious behind tough rhetoric, limiting action to suspension of “deconfliction” arrangements in Syria
UPDATE 1030 GMT: Pro-opposition activists report that the regime resumed bombing of Latamneh in northern Hama Province early Saturday. They say the attacks included an incendiary material such as napalm. Latamneh is south of Khan Sheikhoun, the site of Tuesday’s chemical attack, and was itself struck with two “gas attacks” in recent weeks.
Attacks are also reported in Khan Sheikhoun: Russia has warned of “extremely serious” consequences after the first deliberate US strikes on Assad regime positions in Syria’s six-year conflict, but has set out only limited steps.
Two US destroyers fired 59 Tomahawk missiles overnight Friday on the Shayrat airbase in Homs Province, from which a regime jet fighter carried out Tuesday’s chemical attack on an opposition-held town in northwest Syria. The extent of damage is disputed, but it appears that up 20 regime warplanes were destroyed, buildings damaged, and runways pockmarked.
Moscow made no statement for several hours before Kremlin Dmitri Peskov put out a condemnation of “an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that”. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that the “premediated” US strikes were prepared before Tuesday’s chemical attack by the Assad regime.
The Russian military then said it is suspending “deconfliction” arrangements, which seek to prevent mid-air incidents over Syria, with the US, and Moscow declared that it will boost the air defenses of the Assad regime, without specifying how and in which areas.
The Russians have deployed the S-400, S-300, and Pantsir missile systems around their main airbase, Hmeimim, in western Syria.
Later Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said the US strikes were one step away from direct clashes with Moscow and that US-Russian rapprochement under the Trump Administration was “completely ruined”. At the UN, Russia’s Deputy UN envoy, Vladimir Safronkov told the Security Council, “We strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the U.S. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious.
But beyond the suspension of deconfliction, there was no sign of a Russian response. While there were isolated reports of regime warplanes dropping bombs in the northwest — and deadly regime strikes on opposition areas near Damascus — there was no indication of Russian sorties on Friday.
Seeking to limit any confrontation with Moscow, the US military informed Russian counterparts of the Tomahawk strikes 60 to 90 minutes before launch. The notice gave Russian troops, who have been stationed at the Shayrat airbase since early 2016, time to evacuate.
Opposition activists also said the regime was able to move troops and equipment. However, the Syrian military acknowledged seven killed, and the Free Syrian Army and other opposition outlets claimed that the toll was far higher, including the brigadier general commanding the base.
The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said that the US is “prepared to do more” after its “measured step” — “but we hope it will not be necessary”.
Meanwhile the Pentagon appeared to maintain some pressure on the Russians by telling media outlets that it was investigating whether Russian forces were involved in the loading of chemical munitions on the regime warplane on Tuesday.
Two US officials also said they suspect that Russia operated a drone and warplane that surveyed and struck a hospital treating victims of the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province.
The officials said someone turned off the camera aboard the Russian unmanned drone just before the eight strikes on the only clinic in Khan Sheikoun.
TOP PHOTO: Russian frigate Admiral Grigorovich in the Bosporus Straits in Istanbul on Friday, en route to the Mediterranean (Yoruk Isik/Reuters)