Russia responded angrily to a U.S.-led strike against Syria, warning of unspecified “consequences” that stoked fears the conflict could escalate.
President Donald Trump ordered targeted military action in the country late Friday, following an alleged chemical weapons attack that reportedly left dozens of citizens dead. In recent months, international efforts to broker a ceasefire and organize a humanitarian response to the country’s crisis have faltered in the face of stiff opposition from both Russia and Syria.
Russia, which has backed the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has joined Damascus in denying an attack even took place — even though U.S. authorities have declared it did with near certainty. The dispute over Syria was the latest wedge between the West and Russia, which has been embroiled in multiple controversies with western governments.
In a statement released on Twitter, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. said the country was being “threatened,” and issued an ominous warning that reprisals could follow. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, branded the coalition strike as an “act of aggression,” as he demanded an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Saturday.
In the near term, the military strike appeared to ramp up a searing war of words between Washington and Moscow, which regarded the action as a attack on Russia itself.
The Associated Press, citing a Russian media outlet, quoted a top Russian official as likening Trump to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Alexander Sherin, deputy head of the State Duma’s defense committee, said Trump “can be called Adolf Hitler No. 2 of our time — because, you see, he even chose the time that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union,” the AP reported.
Trump has singled out Putin for his support of Assad, as well as Iran. In his speech announcing military action in Syria, Trump pointedly asked: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?”
Trump and the Pentagon hailed the success of the limited strike, while Russia continued to find its ambitions stymied. On Saturday, the UN Security Council voted down a Russian-sponsored resolution that would have denounced the military action.
Since 2011, the Assad government has been locked in a deadly and protracted conflict with resistance fighters, and elements of ISIS, and has been backed by Russian forces. Russian forces, meanwhile, have themselves gotten bogged down in the fighting, sustaining a number of casualties on the battlefield.
The U.S. strikes were “quite measured [as] the administration wants to mete out punishment” without getting embroiled in a long-term conflict, said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Noting that Trump extended “an olive branch” to both Russia and Iran in his speech, Taleblu added that “the question for the US and the coalition is how long are they prepared to sustain this,” he asked.
“Fundamentally the U.S. is going to have to prove does it have a goal in Syria,” and that it has an endgame in mind, Taleblu added.
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