Moscow has said that the US’s unilateral strike against Syria has struck “a significant blow” to Russian-American relations “which were already in a sorry state”.
The Kremlin’s comments come after Donald Trump launched a barrage of cruise missiles at a Syrian government airbase on Thursday.
Russia has labelled the strikes “an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”, but the US caused confusion with conflicting messages over whether Russia had been informed in advance about the attack.
After about 60 cruise missiles were targeted at the Shayrat Air Base last night, Trump urged other “civilised nations” to join efforts “seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria”.
The US President blamed Bashar al-Assad for a chemical weapons attack on his own people.
Moscow has supported Syria both politically and militarily for years and launched an air campaign to support Assad in September 2015.
The strike came two days after the attack in the opposition-held town of Khan Skeikhoun killed at least 70 civilians, including 20 children.
It effectively means US policy towards the Middle Eastern country was reversed in the space of 48 hours.
It also marked a huge shift from four years ago when UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s failure to get House of Commons support for a US-led bombing mission effectively de-railled Barack Obama’s hopes of intervention.
“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said on Thursday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered at this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
Trump said the attack was in the “national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” He called on “civilised nations” to join in seeking to “end the slaughter and bloodshed” in Syria.
While the Syrian government has denied responsibility for this week’s chemical attack, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday the Trump administration had “no doubt” that the regime controlled by Assad was behind it.
When asked by The New York Times if the US would support efforts to remove Assad from power, Tillerson said “those steps are underway” ― a stark departure from the administration’s previous position.
The Pentagon released footage of the bombing, see below.
While Trump staunchly opposed intervention in Syria in the past years, and even tried to bar Syrian refugees from entering the US, the President appeared to reverse course this week.
Since the start of the conflict in March 2011, more than 207,000 civilians have died in the fighting, including 24,000 children.
A sarin gas attack by the Syrian army on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta in 2013 left more than 1,000 people dead, and human rights organizations have documented several smaller chemical attack since then.
In 2012, Obama had declared that the use of chemical weapons was a ‘red line’ that must not be crossed, and a year later evidence emerged that Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons.
But Obama’s plans to bomb Syria fell apart when Cameron, a key ally, lost a dramatic vote in the House of Commons. The Ed Miliband-led Labour Party voted against the Government’s motion, effectively killing the Tory-Lib Dem coalition proposal.
Earlier in the day on Thursday, Britain was sounding a softer tone, leading renewed calls for diplomacy over Syria.
The US, UK and France had brought a resolution before the United Nations Security Council demanding an investigation into the suspected chemical attack.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said no one could reasonably object to the UN resolution, while Downing Street had previously played down the prospect of military action.
Speaking at a press conference, Johnson said: ”We have tabled a resolution which I hope absolutely everybody feels able to sign up to.
”Because all we are saying is that there should be condemnation of that chemical weapons attack, and secondly, that there should be a thorough and urgent international investigation, and I don’t think anybody could possibly, reasonably, oppose such a resolution.”
On Wednesday, Downing Street played down the prospect of military action in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons against civilians, insisting “nobody is talking” about an armed response to the atrocity.
On Thursday, the Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles were launched at from destroyer ships in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, allowing the US to strike targets without putting piloted aircraft in danger in Syrian airspace.
The missiles targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radar.