The Russian government and its state-run media erupted in indignation on Friday, after President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical attack carried out against civilians in the town of Idlib earlier this week. As Kremlin officials condemned the attack and announced multiple measures in response, propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik hurried to characterize the strikes as poorly executed and ineffective.
The Kremlin on Friday announced three distinct steps it would take in response to Trump’s decision to have 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at the airfield from which the US believes the chemical attacks were launched.
Suspension of De-Confliction Agreements
It has suspended an agreement with the United States to keep lines of communications open between military officials on the ground in and around Syria to prevent accidentally engaging with one another. The process, known as “de-confliction” applies particularly to operations involving air strikes. The US reported, and the Kremlin acknowledged that Russian officials were warned about last night’s strikes in advance. There have, so far, been no reports of Russian casualties.
The home page of the Kremlin-run Sputnik News on Friday
This move has the obvious effect of creating a more dangerous situation in Syria for troops from both countries.
Beefing Up Syria’s Air Defenses
On Friday, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said, “In order to protect the most sensitive objects of the Syrian infrastructure,” the Kremlin would put in place “a system of measures to bolster and increase the effectiveness of the Syrian armed forces’ air defense systems.”
Russia has already supplied Syria with significant air defenses, including state-of-the-art anti-aircraft missiles. The move to strengthen them further is a clear message to Trump that further escalation against Russian client Bashar al-Assad, particularly is it involves manned US aircraft, will come with increased risk.
Adding a Cruise Missile Frigate
The Russian Navy announced that the cruise missile frigate The Admiral Grigorovich, will stop in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean coast. The Russian TASS news agency says the ship will stay on post for at least a month.
It’s unclear whether this is truly a direct response to the US attacks or not. TASS reports that the ship was already in the Black Sea straits on Thursday, meaning that it was likely headed into the Mediterranean already. However, regardless of whether the move is related to the attacks, it represents an escalation of the Russian presence in and around Syria.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, apparently without irony, announced that President Vladimir Putin had condemned the US attack on Syria “as aggression against a sovereign nation,” that was “in violation of international law and also under an invented pretext.”
It bears mentioning that aggression against sovereign nations in violation of international law and also under an invented pretext is actually one of Putin’s specialties.
“This step deals significant damage to US-Russian ties, which are already in a deplorable state,” Peskov added.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s propaganda outlets were busy posting pictures of a sunglasses-wearing Putin looking grim and decisive, and downplaying the effectiveness of US strikes.
“According to the data recording equipment, only 23 missiles reached the Syrian air base,” the Defense Ministry’s Konashenkov said. “The place of the fall of the other missiles is unknown.”
He added, “The combat effectiveness of the US massive missile strike on Syria’s airbase was thus very low. The strike destroyed a logistics warehouse, a training building, a canteen, six MiG-23 planes in the repair hangars and also a radar station. The runway, taxiways and parked planes of the Syrian Air Force have not been damaged.”
Reports of casualties were mixed, with most saying about six people were killed in the attack.