Vladimir Putin has today diverted a warship to protect the Syrian coast and vowed to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s missile defences against further US strikes as fears grew the crisis could topple into war between Russia and the West.
The Russian President has immediately sent his Admiral Grigorovich frigate – armed with cruise missiles and a self-defence system – from the Black Sea to dock in Syria later.
It will pass through the east Mediterranean waters where the USS Ross and USS Porter fired the 59 Tomahawk missiles that pounded Assad’s al-Shayrat military airfield near Homs in the early hours of Friday.
In the continuing fight back Russian or Syrian planes also bombed the town of Khan Sheikhoun, the scene of Tuesday’s horrific chemical gas attack where 80 died, witnesses in the rebel-held area claimed.
The US was also branded ‘a partner of ISIS’ by al-Assad’s spokesman, calling the missile strikes ‘reckless and irresponsible’ and accused Trump of ‘naively falling’ for a ‘false propaganda campaign’ about the Idlib Sarin massacre.
Today world leaders praised the US strikes and urged Putin to hold urgent talks with Trump to prevent the Syria crisis escalating into a wider world conflict.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, speaking alongside German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, said: ‘We do not want an escalation. We have to stop the hypocrisy. If Russia is acting in good faith it should stop and negotiate’.
‘We do not wish to raise the stakes, but to find a solution. You can not deal with reality (use of chemical weapons) by resorting to propaganda.’
Earlier, Trump, speaking from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida where he is hosting the Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng as part of a two day summit, said the US had to act after the Syrian dictator launched the ‘horrible chemical weapons attack’ on innocent civilians.
‘Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,’ he said. ‘It was a slow and brutal death for so many.’
Pentagon officials said that the airfield was being used to store chemical weapons and was a base for Syrian air forces – including the aircraft that conducted the chemical weapons attack.
Syria’s state agency SANA claimed that the missiles killed nine civilians, including four children, even though the bombarded the airbase in the middle of the night. There were reports nine Syrian jets were destroyed.
The Pentagon has released dramatic footage of its missiles being launched from USS Ross, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, targeting the Syrian base.
Putin this morning denounced the strike as an ‘act of aggression against a UN member’ and suspended a deal to avoid mid-air clashes with American fighter jets over the war-torn country. The Kremlin’s propaganda machine clicked into hear claiming the strikes had ‘extremely low’ military effectiveness and that just 23 of 59 cruise missiles reached the air base, destroying six Syrian jets but leaving the runway intact.
Syrian Army officials called the US airstrike a act of ‘blatant aggression’, saying it had made America ‘a partner’ of ISIS, the ex-Nusra Front and other ‘terrorist organisations’.
The US used a special military-to-military hotline to warn Russia it was launching an airstrike on a Syrian air base about 30 minutes in advance – but the Trump administration did not ask Moscow for permission. It is likely Russia alerted the Syrians about the incoming strikes but this has not been confirmed.
Viktor Ozerov, head of the defense committee in the Russian Federation Council, told state news agency RIA that the US strikes ‘may undermine the efforts in the fight against terrorism in Syria.’