RUSSIA POLITICS: Putin to Trump: US Attack On Syria ‘Illegal Act of Aggression’

By Politicoscope April 7, 2017 10:39


RUSSIA POLITICS: Putin to Trump: US Attack On Syria ‘Illegal Act of Aggression’

Furious Vladimir Putin has called the US airstrikes on Syria an ‘illegal act of aggression’ and suspended a deal to avoid mid-air clashes with American fighter jets over the war-torn country.

The Russian President warned of grave damage to relations between Washington and Moscow after 60 Tomahawk missiles were fired at al-Shayrat airbase near Homs, killing six, injuring many more and destroying nine Syrian air force planes.

Syrian Army officials described the attack as an act of ‘blatant aggression’, saying it had made the US ‘a partner’ of ISIS, the ex-Nusra Front and other ‘terrorist organisations’.

The US insists the base was used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to launch a deadly chemical attack that killed 80 on Tuesday.

Moscow received signals the US was launching an airstrike about 30 minutes in advance, according to a Russian ambassador to the UN – but the Trump administration did not seek the Kremlin’s approval. It is not known it the Russians then alerted the Syrians about the incoming strikes.

Putin said the missile strikes broke international law and has halted an agreement with the US aimed at avoiding clashes between their forces in the skies over Syria. The Russian leader regarded the U.S. action as ‘aggression against a sovereign nation’ on a ‘made-up pretext’ and as a cynical attempt to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying.

‘We call upon the UN Security Council to hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the situation,’ the foreign ministry in Moscow said in a statement, calling the strike a ‘gross… violation of international law.’

Two U.S. warships fired 59 cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean Sea at the Syrian airbase controlled by forces of President Bashar al-Assad in response to a poison gas attack in a rebel-held area on Tuesday, US officials said.

Facing his biggest foreign policy crisis since his January 20 inauguration, President Donald Trump took the toughest direct US action yet in Syria’s six-year-old civil war, raising the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran, Assad’s two main military backers.

‘Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behaviour have all failed and failed very dramatically,’ Trump said as he announced the attack from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where he was meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Kremlin claimed that the Syrian armed forces do not possess chemical weapons, saying this has been confirmed by Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) .

‘The fact of the destruction of all chemical weapons stockpiles has been recorded and confirmed by the OPCW, a specialized UN unit,’ said Peskov.

‘At the same time, in Putin’s opinion, total disregard for the use of chemical weapons by terrorists only drastically aggravates the situation.’

He said: ‘Putin also sees the attacks on Syria by the US as an attempt to divert the international community’s attention from the numerous casualties among civilians in Iraq.’

The spokesman warned:

‘This move by Washington is causing substantial damage to Russian-US relations, which are in tatters as it is.’

Trump ordered the strikes a day after he blamed Assad for this week’s chemical attack, which killed at least 70 people, many of them children, in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. The Syrian government has denied it was behind the attack.

The Tomahawk missiles were launched from the USS Porter and USS Ross around 8:40 p.m. EDT (0040 GMT on Friday), striking multiple targets – including the airstrip, aircraft and fuel stations – on the Shayrat Air Base, which the Pentagon says was used to store chemical weapons.

‘Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons,’ said Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis.

At least four Syrian soldiers, including a senior officer, were killed in the attack, which almost completely destroyed the base, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says no Russian servicemen have been hurt.

Lavrov, speaking on a trip to Uzbekistan, strongly condemned the U.S. strike saying it violates international law.

Russian state TV aired footage showing the damage from the U.S. strikes at the Syrian air base. It showed craters and pockmarks left by explosions and said that nine Syrian air force jets have been destroyed in the attack.

The U.S. cruise missile attack was a ‘one-off,’ a U.S. defense official told Reuters, meaning it was expected to be a single strike with no current plans for escalation.

A communication link between the U.S. and Russia used to protect their pilots flying sorties over Syria was used ahead of an American missile strike on the country. The so-called ‘deconfliction line’ is operated by the U.S. military’s Central Command at the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. It serves as a crucial link to make sure the increasingly crowded Syrian airspace doesn’t see any accidental collisions or attacks on each other.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis says: ‘U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield’ targeted in Syria’s Homs province. U.S. Central Command did not immediately respond to an Associated Press query on specifics of how the line was used.

Syrian state TV said that ‘American aggression’ had targeted a Syrian military base with ‘a number of missiles and cited a Syrian military source as saying the strike had ‘led to losses.’

Trump sought to cast the attack, which took place as he and Xi were wrapping up a dinner of Dover sole and dry-aged New York strip steak, as an effort to deter Syria from using chemical weapons in the future.

‘Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians,’ he said later. ‘Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.’

‘It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,’ Trump added.

Trump aides described his action as a measured and targeted response and suggested the wider U.S. strategy, which has been to avoid getting dragged into the civil war, would not change

‘We feel the strike itself was proportionate,’ U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters.

‘This clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for,’ he added. ‘I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status.’

According to a U.S. defense official, Trump first asked about possible military action on Wednesday, after U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that Syrian aircraft based at the al Shayrat airbase had dropped Sarin gas on civilians.

Planning began on Wednesday and accelerated at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House on Thursday, helped by the fact that the Defense Department had numerous off-the-shelf plans, including for cruise missile strikes on Syrian airfields.

‘It was a matter of dusting those off and adapting them for the current target set and timing,’ the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The relatively quick response to the chemical attack came as Trump faced a growing list of global problems, from North Korea and China to Iran and Islamic State, and may have been intended to send a message to friends and foes alike of his resolve to use military force if deemed necessary.

‘One question is whether Russia will respond in any meaningful way,’ said a senior U.S. official involved in planning the raid. ‘If they do, they will be further complicit in the actions of the Syrian regime.’

Russia has air and ground forces in Syria after intervening there on Assad’s side in 2015 and turning the tide against mostly Sunni Muslim rebel groups.

Trump has so far focused his Syria policy almost exclusively on defeating Islamic State militants in northern Syria, where U.S. special forces support Arab and Kurdish armed groups.

Iran, which also backs Assad, denounced the attack.

‘Iran … condemns use of chemical weapons … but at the same time believes it is dangerous, destructive and violation of international laws to use it as an excuse to take unilateral actions,’ Students News Agency ISNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.

Israel welcomed the move.

‘In both word and action, President Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated,’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

U.S. lawmakers had a mixed reaction, with some criticizing Trump’s decision to use force without getting their approval.

‘Congress will work with the president, but his failure to seek congressional approval is unlawful,’ said Senator Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential candidate.

The U.N. Security Council was expected to hold closed-door consultations on Friday about the U.S. strike on Syria following a request by Bolivia, an elected member of the council, a senior Security Council diplomat said.

About 60 of theses US Tomahawk missiles launched hit the Shayrat air base, southeast of the city of Homs, a small installation with two runways

– daily mail

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By Politicoscope April 7, 2017 10:39

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