Putin denounces attack as an act of aggression

BEIRUT • Syria, Russia and Iran yesterday reacted to the strikes by the US and its allies against three Syrian facilities involving chemical weapons, which drew angry condemnations but no indication that there would be a wider escalation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the US-led strikes as an "act of aggression".

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatalloh Ali Khamenei tweeted that the attack represented "a war crime", and Syria's Foreign Ministry described it as "barbarous aggression".

The strikes were in response to an April 7 attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, east of Damascus, that killed an estimated 40 people with some form of lethal gas.

The pre-dawn volleys of cruise missiles launched by the United States, Britain and France were limited to three sites linked to Syria's chemical weapons programme and triggered no retaliation.

Russia said they did little damage and that most of the cruise missiles targeting Syrian sites had been intercepted by Syrian air defences, including all of those that were bound for the site from which the April 7 alleged chemical attack originated.

In a statement published on the Kremlin website, Mr Putin said the US actions in Syria made the humanitarian catastrophe worse and caused pain for civilians.

"Russia in the most serious way condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military servicemen help the legitimate government to fight terrorism," he said.

"The current escalation of the situation around Syria has a devastating impact on the whole system of international relations," Mr Putin added.

Speaking in Moscow, Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi told a televised briefing that Russia may consider supplying S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria and "other countries".

Russia had "refused" to supply those missiles to Syria a few years ago, he added, "taking into account the pressing request of some of our Western partners".

Following the US-led strikes, however, "we consider it possible to return to examination of this issue not only in regard to Syria but to other countries as well", he said.

In Syria, state television broadcast scenes of citizens in the streets showing their support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, waving Syrian, Russian and Iranian flags.

"The honourable cannot be humiliated," said a post from the Twitter account maintained by Mr Assad's office after the attack.

The Syrian presidency said Mr Assad told his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani that the US-led attack would increase Syria's resolve to "fight and crush terrorism in every inch" of the country.

Mr Rouhani reportedly told Mr Assad that Iran would stand by Syria, "expressing his confidence that this aggression would not weaken the determination of the Syrian people in its war against terrorism".

China's Foreign Ministry said it objected to the use of force and warned that it could complicate the situation in Syria. "China believes that a political solution is the only realistic way out for the Syrian issue," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said.

Beijing, however, has vetoed several United Nations Security Council measures aimed at addressing the conflict.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc "supports all efforts aimed at the prevention of the use of chemical weapons".

Still, the EU's goal is to prevent an escalation of the conflict, Ms Mogherini added, calling for an immediate ceasefire and a "genuine political transition" in Syria. She urged Russia and Iran to help prevent any further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

Support from elsewhere in Europe was more muted, with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni saying his country did not provide its usual logistical support to Western military operations in the eastern Mediterranean.

Germany also did not take part, although Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a statement backing the action. Two US planes from a base in Spain provided logistical support, the Spanish Defence Ministry said.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 15, 2018, with the headline 'Putin denounces attack as an act of aggression'. Print Edition | Subscribe