Russia warned on Friday that U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base could have “extremely serious” consequences, as President Donald Trump’s first major foray into a foreign conflict opened up a rift between Moscow and Washington.
The warships USS Porter and USS Ross in the Mediterranean Sea launched dozens of Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base, which the Pentagon says was involved in a chemical weapons attack this week. (Graphic locator map on attack – tmsnrt.rs/2nm68H0)
It was Trump’s biggest foreign policy decision since taking office in January and the kind of direct intervention in Syria’s six-year-old civil war his predecessor Barack Obama avoided.
The strikes were in reaction to what Washington says was a poison gas attack by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that killed at least 70 people in rebel-held territory. Syria denies it carried out the attack.
They catapulted Washington into confrontation with Russia, which has advisers on the ground aiding its close ally Assad.
“We strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the U.S. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious,” Russia’s deputy U.N. envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged that the U.S. strikes were one step away from clashing with Russia’s military.
U.S. officials informed Russian forces ahead of the missile strikes and avoided hitting Russian personnel. (Graphic explaining kind of missile used in attack – tmsnrt.rs/2nkJYWa)
Satellite imagery suggests the base houses Russian special forces and helicopters, part of the Kremlin’s effort to help Assad fight Islamic State and other militant groups.
Trump has frequently urged improved relations with Russia, strained under Obama over Syria, Ukraine and other issues, was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Thursday night when the attack occurred.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, in Florida with Trump, said on Friday the United States would announce additional sanctions on Syria in the near future but offered no specifics.
Russia’s Defense Ministry responded to the attack by calling in the U.S. military attache in Moscow to say that at midnight Moscow time (5 p.m. EDT) it would close down a communications line used to avoid accidental clashes between Russian and U.S. forces in Syria, Interfax new agency said. U.S. warplanes frequently attack Islamic State militants in Syria and come close to Russian forces.