Russia has warned that US 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.
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 US. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious,” Russia’s deputy UN envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, told a meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged that the US strikes were one step away from clashing with Russia’s military.
US officials informed Russian forces ahead of the missile strikes and avoided hitting Russian personnel.
Satellite imagery suggests the base houses Russian special forces and helicopters, part of the Kremlin’s effort to help Assad fight Daish.
US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the Trump administration was ready to take further steps if needed.
“We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary,” she told the UN Security Council. “The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used. It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.”
Iran, which supports Assad and has been criticised by Trump, condemned the strike, with President Hassan Rowhani saying it would bring “only destruction and danger to the region and the globe.”
US officials called the intervention a “one-off” intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks and not an expansion of the U.S. role in the Syrian war.
Russia joined the war on Assad’s behalf in 2015, turning the momentum in his favour. Although Moscow supports opposing sides in the war between Assad and rebels, the United States and Russia say they share a single main enemy, Daish.
Assad’s office said Syria would strike its enemies harder. Damascus and Moscow denied Syrian forces were behind the gas attack but western countries dismissed their explanation.