The Russian government has condemned missile strikes by the US on a Syrian airbase, saying Washington’s action would “inflict major damage on US-Russia ties”, according to Russian news agencies.
In its first public response to missile strikes by the US , the Kremlin on Friday issued a strong statement labelling Washington’s move as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”.
The US fired dozens of missiles at Sheyrate airbase earlier on Friday from which it said a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched this week in Syria’s Idlib province.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the missile strikes created a “serious obstacle” to creating an international coalition to defeat ISIL and said that Russia views the strikes as an attempt to deflect world attention from civilian deaths in Iraq – where scores of people died in a series of US-led coalition air strikes in Mosul last month.
“Putin views the US strikes on Syria as aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law and on a made-up up pretext,” Peskov was cited as saying.
“Washington’s step will inflict major damage on US-Russia ties.”
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said that Russia is recalibating its position towards the US.
“It’s clear for the Russians that Donald Trump is not the president that they thought they were getting,” he said.
“They are talking about how the US is basically acting now like it did in the invastion of Iraq 14 years ago, when it acted without the permission of the United Nations – essentially taking unilateral action with its various allies.”
A statement by the Russian foreign ministry on Friday also announced that Moscow was halting an agreement with the US aimed at avoiding clashes between their forces and ensuring safety of flights in the skies over Syria in response to Washington’s missile strikes.
Russia, which has been bombing rebel-held areas in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad since September 2015, said the US strike had been carried out on an “invented pretext” and reiterated its view that the Syrian army did not possess chemical weapons.
Russia has maintained that Syrian air strikes hit a depot where anti-Assad rebels were building chemical weapons – a claim the US has vigorously disputed.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking just after the strikes were announced, said Russia had “failed in its responsibility” to deliver on a 2013 deal it helped broker to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Tillerson is set to make the first visit to Russia by a Trump administration official next week.