“The Americans and their allies did everything to make sure they didn’t hit Russian units in Syria…”
(Ilya Arkhipov and Henry Meyer, Bloomberg News) MOSCOW — Russia denounced airstrikes on Syria by the U.S., France and the United Kingdom as a violation of international law but made no mention of retaliation for the attack on its Middle Eastern ally, easing for the moment fears of a wider conflict.
The more than 100 cruise missiles fired at targets in Syria early Saturday didn’t enter airspace covered by the Russian air-defense systems protecting its bases near the coast, the Defense Ministry said. There were no reports of any Russian casualties in the attack, including among a parliamentary delegation in Damascus.
“We’re not talking about a direct military conflict between Russia and the U.S.,” Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the international affairs committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, said in Moscow. “The Americans and their allies did everything to make sure they didn’t hit Russian units in Syria.”
Last month, Russia’s top military commander warned that its forces would shoot down any missiles and their launchers that threaten them, fueling fears a major U.S. attack could escalate into a broad conflict. But the Western strikes, though larger than those by the U.S. last year, were limited to a small number of targets linked to Syria’s chemical-weapons program, U.S. officials said. There were no immediate plans for more attacks, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said. Saturday’s attack didn’t seem likely to threaten the Syrian regime’s survival, a Kremlin priority.
Klimov said the limited strikes showed that Russian warnings had worked. “They’re cowardly political thugs,” he said of the U.S. administration. “They wanted to get some militaristic PR for their own political reasons but they’re scared of getting hit back.”
U.S. officials said they’d targeted the strikes to minimize the risk of accidentally hitting Russian forces. The U.S. didn’t give Russia advance notice of the targets but used a hotline to ensure that the airspace was clear. French officials said Russian forces had been warned to avoid accidental escalation. Russia has air and naval bases in Syria, an as military advisers, but its forces in the region are dwarfed by those of the U.S. and its allies.
Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the international affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, denounced the attack as a “flagrant violation of international law” and said it appeared to have been aimed at preventing an investigation of the alleged chemical-weapons attack that Washington cited as the justification. Moscow has called that attack a setup, a contention that Western governments dismiss.
But Kosachyov said Russia’s response “should be not military but legal,” focused on the United Nations, RIA Novosti reported.
Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., said in a Facebook post that the attack “would have consequences” but he didn’t elaborate. He also criticized the U.S. for “insulting” President Vladimir Putin, an apparent reference to President Donald Trump calling out his Russian counterpart for his support of the government in Syria.
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