Russian reaction to Syria air strikes - loud but measured

Moscow describes air strikes as a 'flagrant violation of international law'

Air strikes launched in Syria after chemical weapon attack

Moscow has described the overnight coalition operation in Syria as “a flagrant violation of international law” and has promised “consequences.” But while the official reaction was loud, it was also markedly measured.

In a statement issued on Saturday morning, Russian president Vladimir Putin described the strike as "an aggressive action." Russia condemned the attack "in the most serious of terms," the statement read.

Konstantin Kosachyov, the influential head of the Federation Council’s Council on International relations said that the attack was “an unjustified attack on a sovereign state.” Its aim was to complicate the mission of international inspectors, he said, due to begin their work investigating the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, near Damascus. This line was repeated several times on state television broadcasts.

But, Mr Kosachyov added, now was “not a time for emotions.” Russia’s reaction should instead be guided “by the professional evaluation of military specialists”

Those military specialists seemed to put clear blue water between Russia and the coalition operation. In statements that will reassure Washington — which emphasised targets had been chosen away from Russian infrastructure — the Russian Ministry of Defence said it had consciously not engaged its own defence systems. “None of the missiles landed in any of the areas under the responsibility of Russian air defence systems in Tartus and Khmeimime," it said in a statement.

Syrian sources also emphasised that Russia had warned them in advance of the likelihood of air attacks, and had evacuated all military installations. According to Reuters, their air defences managed to shoot down a third of the coalition missiles — a much better success rate than 2017 Shayrat missile strike, when almost all of 59 US Tomahawk missiles landed.

At a press conference later in the morning, the Russian Ministry of Defence claimed Syrian air defences had intercepted 71 of 103 cruise missiles fired by coalition forces.

Maria Zakharova, the excitable spokesperson of Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that the West “claimed “moral leadership” but “had struck a blow to the capital of a sovereign state.” The coalition had, she said, had attacked “just at a time when Syria held the chance of a peaceful future.”

Russia’s ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov also said that “actions would not be without consequences.”

But the statements seemed many notches down from earlier angry rhetoric — including yesterday’s claims the UK had itself staged the chemical attack itself.

In the context of those earlier claims, Russia’s Foreign Ministry seemed to be issuing a holding statement.

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