The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, condemned U.S. cruise missile strikes on Syria on Friday, warning the move would further damage already battered U.S.-Russia relations which Moscow had hoped President Donald Trump would revive.
U.S. officials said they had informed Russian forces ahead of the strikes, intended to punish the Syrian government for what they say was a chemical weapons attack on Wednesday, and had avoided hitting Russian personnel.
Satellite imagery suggests the Shayrat air base that was struck in western Syria is home to Russian special forces and military helicopters, part of the Kremlin’s effort to help the Syrian government fight Islamic State and other militant groups.
Russia’s main air base and a naval facility were not hit.
Moscow had been hoping to cooperate with Trump to jointly fight Islamic State in Syria, a move it was banking on to boost U.S.-Russia ties which are at a post-Cold War low.
After the U.S. strikes, that task now looks harder.
“President Putin views the U.S. strikes on Syria as aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law and on a made-up up pretext,” said a Kremlin statement.
“This step by Washington will inflict major damage on U.S.-Russia ties.”
Putin, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was holding a meeting of Russia’s Security Council to discuss the strike on Friday afternoon and the Russian Foreign Ministry called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
A foreign ministry statement said Moscow was suspending a Syrian air safety agreement with the U. S. originally drawn up to ensure that the two countries’ planes did not collide.
“It’s clear to any specialist that the decision to launch a strike was taken in Washington before the events in Idlib (the province where the gas poisoning took place) which were simply used as a pretext for a show of force,” the ministry said.
The Russian Defence Ministry meanwhile mocked the effectiveness of the U.S. strikes, saying only 23 missiles had found their targets.
It was unclear where another 36 had landed, it said, promising Syrian air defences would now be beefed up.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in the statement that the deal was designed to prevent possible military incidents between the two great powers, which support opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.
Russia condemns the U.S. “illegitimate actions against the lawful Syrian government,” the Foreign Ministry said, referring to the U.S. bombing carried out in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian state military.
“Russia denies that the Syrian state military used chemical weapons, and maintains that Syrian militants were responsible for a recent chemical weapons incident in the north-western province of Idlib,’’ the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
U.S. President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes against the airfield from which a deadly chemical attack was allegedly launched, declaring he acted in America’s “national security interest” against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The strikes drew sharp criticism from Russia, Mr. Assad’s ally.
U.S. officials said the military fired dozens of cruise missiles against the base in response to the suspected gas attack in a rebel-held area this week, which Washington has blamed on Assad’s forces.
The Syrian government has strongly denied responsibility and says it does not use chemical weapons.
The governor of Homs province said earlier that the airbase was used to support Syrian army operations against Islamic State.
The U.N. Security Council was expected to hold closed-door consultations on Friday about the U.S. strike on Syria following a request by Bolivia, an elected member of the council, a senior Security Council diplomat said.
A Russian frigate armed with Kalibr cruise missiles sailed through the Bosphorus en route to the eastern Mediterranean in the early hours of Friday morning, according to pictures taken by Turkish bloggers for their online Bosphorus Naval News project.
It was unclear if that was related to the U.S. strikes.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there were no reports of any Russians being hurt in the attack.
He said he hoped U.S.-Russia ties would not be irreparably hurt as a result.
Rex Tillerson is due to make his first visit to Moscow next week as U.S. secretary of state, an eagerly awaited event in Russia where politicians have been anxious to try to use the change of administration to reboot relations.