President Donald Trump told Russia to prepare for a potential missile strike on Syria. In a tweet sent on Wednesday morning, the President taunted the Russians with what he called “nice and new and smart” missiles. He chided Moscow for protecting an “animal that kills his people and enjoys it.”
The tweet came after Russian ambassador to Lebanon said in an interview with a local TV station that Russian forces in Syria would shoot down any missiles targeting the legal government in Syria that has been fighting international terrorism on its territory. He also said that they will target the sources that will launch the missiles. This could put US navy ships and air assets at risk should Trump make good on his threat to go after Assad.
The recent tough rhetoric comes after a suspected chemical attack that killed over 80 people in Douma, a rebel-held suburb in Damascus. The west has blamed the Assad regime for the attack. Syrian authorities backed by their Russian partners have denied the claims saying that the chemical attack was staged.
The threat of military action against the Assad regime could further complicate the delicate situation in the Middle East. An attempt by the UN Security Council to establish an independent body to probe the chemical weapons attack also failed to go through. US defense secretary James Mattis maintained that military action against Assad forces is still on the table. US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley also took a tough stand on the matter saying that the US is ready to respond even if the UN Security Council fails to act.
The Russians have also not backed down. Vladimir Shamanov, chairman of the defence affairs committee in Moscow told reporters that any strike against Russian interests in Syria will be met by an equal retaliation. Shamanov also added that Russian armed forces have a decent assortment of weaponry in Syria and would not hesitate to use it if needed. The Syrian government has also put its troops on high alert in anticipation of a possible US strike.
The Russian involvement in Syria is huge. Russian airpower backed by Iranian soldiers and militants have shored up Assad’s regime in the last few years. The government has recaptured key territories that were once under rebel control. Russia’s and Iran’s influence in the region has rattled the west and some of the regional powers like Israel. Escalation of current tensions to an armed confrontation between the west and the Russian forces could prove calamitous for the stability of Syria and other countries in the region.
Trump tweeted later that US-Russian relations are at their worse since the Cold War. The President said that there’s a need for cooperation to end the arms race. Russia has not yet responded to this latest development. Despite Trump’s tweets, it’s still not yet clear whether the US will launch any military strikes on Syria. However, the President is under enormous pressure to respond after the chemical weapons attack.