Thursday 13 December 2018

Cold War tensions soar as Trump warns Russia of Syria missile attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony yesterday to receive credentials from foreign ambassadors at the Kremlin. Russia has warned it will shoot down missiles in Syria. Photo: Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony yesterday to receive credentials from foreign ambassadors at the Kremlin. Russia has warned it will shoot down missiles in Syria. Photo: Reuters

Susan Heavey

US President Donald Trump has warned Russia of imminent military action in Syria over a suspected poison gas attack, declaring that missiles "will be coming" and claiming that relations between the two countries are at an all-time low.

Mr Trump was reacting to a warning from Russia on Tuesday that any US missiles fired at Syria over the deadly assault on a rebel enclave would be shot down and the launch sites targeted.

A woman becomes emotional as President Trump signs into law new legislation to fight sex trafficking. Photo: Reuters
A woman becomes emotional as President Trump signs into law new legislation to fight sex trafficking. Photo: Reuters

His comments raised fears of direct conflict over Syria for the first time between the two world powers backing opposing sides in the country's protracted civil war, which has aggravated instability across the Middle East.

"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!'," Mr Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

"You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!" Mr Trump tweeted, referring to Moscow's alliance with Syria's president Bashar al-Assad.

He also tweeted: "Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this.

Trump's threat
Trump's threat

"Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?"

Later, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said the US was still assessing the chemical attack and the US military stood ready "to provide military options if they are appropriate as the president determines".

In response, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a Facebook post that "smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not towards the lawful government".

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said any US missile salvo could be an attempt to destroy evidence of the reported gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma, for which Damascus and Moscow have denied any responsibility. Dozens of Douma inhabitants died and hundreds were injured in the attack, according to the World Health Organisation.

The Russian military said later it had observed movements of US naval forces in the Gulf. Any US strike would probably involve the navy in waters within range of Syria, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defence systems. A US navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean.

The Syrian foreign ministry accused the US, which has supported some rebel groups in Syria's conflict, of using "fabrications and lies" as an excuse to hit its territory.

"We are not surprised by such a thoughtless escalation by a regime like the United States regime, which sponsored terrorism in Syria and still does," the state news agency SANA cited an official source in the ministry as saying.

After the Douma attack, the insurgent group dug in there, Jaish al-Islam, finally agreed to withdraw. That clinched a huge victory for President Assad, crushing a long rebellion in the eastern Ghouta region near Damascus.

In London, British Prime Minister Theresa May said all the indications pointed to Syrian government responsibility for the Douma attack and such "a shocking and barbaric act" could not go unchallenged.

"We're rapidly reaching an understanding of what happened on the ground," she said. "We'll be working with our closest allies to consider how we can ensure that those responsible are held to account, and also how we can prevent and deter the humanitarian catastrophe of the use of chemical weapons in the future."

Mr Trump's disclosure of his apparent decision to strike as well as the kind of weaponry to be used in a future military operation is likely to frustrate military planners, who hold such information closely.

The president had repeatedly said he would not telegraph military moves against foes such as North Korea and Isil.

Irish Independent

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