I have an important update: based on Russian sources, including video footage and the reports of one Russian journalist on the ground, Evgenii Poddubnyi, it has become clear that the US strike was largely symbolic. Here is the evidence:
- The Russians were given a warning which they, of course, passed on to the Syrians. The Americans must have assumed that this would happen.
- The Syrian airbase was lightly damaged: a few number of aircraft were damaged or destroyed, but many of these were in repairs and could not fly. Fuel storage tanks were destroyed. A number of aircraft bunkers were damage or destroyed. A few barracks were also destroyed.
- There were 6 or 7 casualties, which is very little.
- Crucially, the runways did not suffer.
Now here is the really intriguing thing: it appears that only 23 out of a total of 59 US cruise missiles hit the base. The rest are unaccounted for. This could be due to all sorts of reasons, including Syrian and Russian air defenses or Russian electronic warfare. I tend to believe that the latter is the cause. But then, this begs another question: why did the Russians let 23 of the cruise missiles through? Possibly to appease Trump and not force him to re-strike. Other possibility, to make sure that the political fallout from this stupid and reckless attack still come back to hurt the United States (had they destroyed all the cruise missiles this would not happen).
As for the Russian political reaction, I find it rather flaccid: Russia has condemned the attack and suspended the Memorandum of Understanding on Prevention of Flight Safety Incidents in the course of operations in Syria signed with the US.
Meh, I am rather unimpressed.
Here is the full Russian MoFA statement:
The United States conducted strikes against Syrian government troops in the early hours of April 7, using chemical weapons attacks in Idlib Province as a pretext.
The US opted for a show of force, for military action against a country fighting international terrorism without taking the trouble to get the facts straight.
It is not the first time that the US chooses an irresponsible approach that aggravates problems the world is facing, and threatens international security. The very presence of military personnel from the US and other countries in Syria without consent from the Syrian government or a UN Security Council mandate is an egregious and obvious violation of international law that cannot be justified. While previous initiatives of this kind were presented as efforts to combat terrorism, now they are clearly an act of aggression against a sovereign Syria. Actions undertaken by the US today inflict further damage to the Russia-US relations.
Russia has expressed on numerous occasions that it was ready to cooperate on resolving the most urgent issues the world is facing today, and that fighting international terrorism was a top priority. However, we will never agree to unsanctioned action against the legitimate Syrian government that has been waging an uncompromising war on international terrorism for a long time.
Seeking to justify military action Washington has totally distorted what had happened in Idlib. The US could not have failed to grasp the fact that the Syrian government troops did not use chemical weapons there. Damascus simply does not have them, as confirmed a number of times by qualified experts. This was the conclusion reached by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Over the recent years this organisation inspected almost all the facilities linked or possibly linked to Syria’s chemical weapons programme. As for Idlib, the terrorists operating there used to produce toxic land mines intended for use in Syria and Iraq. These manufacturing facilities were put out of operation in a military operation carried out by the Syrian air force.
The US pretends that it does not understand obvious things, turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons in Iraq, officially confirmed by Baghdad. The US refuses to believe the evidence provided by certified documents confirming the use of chemical weapons by terrorists in Aleppo. In doing so, the US is abetting international terrorism and making it stronger. New WMD attacks can be expected.
There is no doubt that the military action by the US is an attempt to divert attention from the situation in Mosul, where the campaign carried out among others by US-led coalition has resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties and an escalating humanitarian disaster.
It is obvious that the cruise missile attack was prepared in advance. Any expert understands that Washington’s decision on air strikes predates the Idlib events, which simply served as a pretext for a show of force.
Russia suspends the Memorandum of Understanding on Prevention of Flight Safety Incidents in the course of operations in Syria signed with the US.
We call on the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the latest developments.
Again, I am very underwhelmed to put it mildly.
I hope that the outrage inside Russia will force Lavrov to cancel his planned meeting with Tillerson. The usually sleepy Duma seems to be uncharacteristically outraged.
On a personal note, I will be gone all day and most of the week-end I will be attending Church services for the feasts of the Annunciation and the Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem.
You can expect an analysis by Monday or Tuesday at the latest.
PS: needless to say, no chemical weapons or chemical weapon storage facilities were damaged: we know that since NOBODY, including the Russian reporters, were even carrying, nevermind wearing, any gas masks or, even less so, full chemical protection suits. This is hardly surprising since, of course, they never existed in the first place.
PPS: just for the record, this attack was a direct and clear violation of
- US national law (Trump never got Congress to authorize this attack)
- International law (Trump is now a criminal guilty of the crime of ‘aggression’)
- The UN Charter
In other words, Trump is now a war criminal and the USA a rogue state (again).