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Last week, the US Navy launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Ash Sha’irat military airfield operated by the Syrian Air Force near the city of Homs. The launch followed a large-scale media campaign aimed at blaming the Assad government for an alleged chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun. The move was described by the mainstream media as a justified response to criminal actions of the Assad regime. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that “steps are underway” on an international coalition to pressure the Syrian president from power. It is worth noting that no investigation was made by the US-led block to confirm these accusations. Despite this, a number of countries, including the UK, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia expressed their full support to the US military actions.
Following the incident, Moscow suspended the memorandum of understanding on flight safety in Syria with the United States, suspended work of a hotline with the Pentagon and announced that it will take additional measures to strengthen the Syrian air defense capabilities in case of possible attacks against the country.
According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin described the US attack as an act of “aggression against a sovereign nation,” which was carried out based on a “made-up pretext.”
The meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the issue showed further deep divisions among sides involved in the conflict. The US-led block continued blaming Damascus, Moscow and Tehran for the ongoing escalation and opposed the Russian suggestion to investigate jointly the Khan Sheikhoun incident.
US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, threatened more military strikes on Syria and blamed Russia and Iran for casualties among civilians. Later, Haley clarified the Trump administration’s attitude towards Syria in an interview to CNN. According to the US official, the regime change in Syria is now one of the top priorities of the US foreign policy and a political solution of the crisis is not going to happen “with Assad at the head of the regime.” Haley declared that decreasing the Iranian influence in Syria and combating the ISIS terrorist group are important goals of the current US administration and added that President Donald Trump is already considering the issue of imposing new sanctions on Russia and Iran.
Separately, the Pentagon continued with accusations that Moscow was also responsible to the Khan Sheikhoun incident and it was finding out whether Moscow took part in the alleged chemical attack. Tillerson also pushed the idea that Russia had failed to prevent Syria from carrying out a chemical attack on a rebel-held town.
The large-scale US-led media and diplomatic campaign against the Iranian-Russian-Syrian alliance was strongly supported by the UK. British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson canceled a planned trip to Moscow and announced that London will call for new “very punitive sanctions” on Russia if Moscow does not cut ties with the Syrian government. Johnson also threatened Syria with new military strikes from the US.
In turn, Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov said that the US aggression against Syria works towards the strengthening of terrorism and its aftermaths would affect negatively the regional security. Spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova emphasized that the US actions are not related to attempts to learn about chemical weapons in Syria.
“Only recently the Americans and their western allies demanded inspectors sent, some investigation begun into the aircraft which delivered strikes on the militants’ depots and production facilities,” she said. “They demanded a probe into those aircraft and the equipment used in the strikes, and then they deliver strikes right on that equipment.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that a US missile strike against a Syrian airbase last week was “basically wrong” and “benefited terrorism.” He emphasized that “A repeat of such an action could be very dangerous for the region.”
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying declared that China opposes “the use of force” against Syria and it is important “to prevent further deterioration of the situation and uphold the hard-won process of political settlement of the Syrian issue.”
The US missile strike against the Syrian military airfield became another rung on the escalation ladder in the ongoing Syrian war and complicated dramatically any efforts aimed at searching a political solution of the conflict. If the Trump administration continues such actions, the progress in reconciliation of interests of various powers in the conflict will be reversed and the region will be pushed back to the brink of a regional war. The situation will become especially dangerous in case of any incidents between the US and Russian militaries operating in the war-torn country.