Monday 11 December 2017

Russian warship sent to defend Syria as Putin warns of damage to US ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin Photo: Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin Photo: Reuters

Josie Ensor and Roland Oliphant

Russia has diverted a warship to protect the Syrian coast and vowed to bolster Bashar al-Assad's missile defences against more US strikes, risking a confrontation between the former Cold World foes.

The Admiral Grigorovich, a cruise missile-carrying frigate, passed through the Bosporus en-route to Russia's Syrian navy base at Tartus yesterday.

The Grigorovich, which carries Moscow's state-of-the-art Kalibr cruise missiles, was taking part in joint exercises in the Black Sea with the Turkish navy when it was ordered to turn around.

The US fired dozens of cruise missiles at the Shayrat air base near the western city of Homs from which it said a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched this week.

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said President Trump's decision to directly target the Syrian regime inflicted further "considerable damage" to ties between Moscow and Washington.

"This step by Washington inflicts considerable damage to US-Russia relations, which are already in a lamentable state," he said.

Mr Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin, a staunch ally of the Syrian leader, regarded the US action as "aggression against a sovereign nation" on a "made-up pretext" and a cynical attempt to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq.

The Kremlin also announced it was immediately suspending its air safety agreement with the US in response to missile strikes on a Syrian air base.

The memorandum, signed in October 2015, is designed to avoid clashes in the crowded airspace over Syria, with each side giving the other warning over planned strikes.

In October, Russia warned that it would use its missiles to intercept any US missiles or jets targeting Syrian forces.

However, it does not appear to have made any attempt to intercept the Tomahawk missiles fired by US destroyers in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Six Syrian soldiers were reported to have been killed in the missile strike, which destroyed as much as 90pc of the base. No Russian soldiers or equipment were reported to have been damaged in the attack.

It is reported that the US informed Russia of its plans to strike hours ahead, giving it time to remove any aircraft it had stationed at the base.

However Dmitry Medvedev, Russian Prime Minister, complained that America had been "one step away" from clashing with the Russian military.

Irish Independent

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