Friday, April 7, 2017

Russia Lets U.S. Know Attack on Al Shayrat Will be a One-Off

The U.S. cruise missile strike on Syria wasn't a response to a surprise sarin attack by the Syrian military. It was part of a predetermined campaign organized in advance with Turkey. This is from the last paragraph of Neil MacFarquhar's decent roundup, "Russia and Iran Condemn U.S. Strikes in Syria":
Separately, the Russian Defense Ministry and other officials said the American mission was too complicated to have been set up in a few days, meaning that Washington must have planned it long ago and claimed a fake chemical weapons attack as a pretext.
There were many "tells" along the way, foremost of which might be the simplest and most obvious. The normally obstreperous and contrarian Trump immediately and unequivocally blamed Syria for the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun. This is not Trump's style. He usually riffs and tweets on a hot-button issue, rolling it over in his addled brain. Not this time. He was on script.

Russia's response, as MacFarquhar notes, is that this will be a one-off by the U.S.:
Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, said that the strikes represented a “significant blow” to American-Russian ties, and that Mr. Putin considered the attack a breach of international law that had been made under a false pretext.
Moscow also called on the United Nations Security Council to convene an emergency meeting, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said it was freezing an agreement with the United States to coordinate air operations over Syria.
“The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons at its disposal,” Mr. Peskov said.
Although Russia did not deploy its air defense system in Syria against the American cruise missiles, it flexed its military muscles after the attack. The minister of defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, said that Russia would bolster Syria’s air defense systems, and the Russian news agency Tass reported that a frigate would enter the Mediterranean Sea on Friday and would visit the logistics base at the Syrian port of Tartus.
The American cruise missile strikes on Friday on an airfield in Al Shayrat, which were aimed at Syrian fighter jets and other infrastructure, ignored the fact that “terrorists” had also used chemical weapons, Mr. Peskov said, without naming specific instances.
A spokesman for the Russian military, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, issued a statement calling the military effectiveness of the American airstrikes “extremely low,” with just 23 of the 59 missiles were on target.
The American missiles destroyed a warehouse of material and technical property, a training building, a canteen, six MIG-23 aircraft in repair hangars and a radar station, according to the Russian military. A Russian television reporter, Evgeny Poddubny, who was at the air base, said nine planes had been destroyed.
The assault in Idlib Province on Tuesday struck the town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing scores and sickening hundreds more. Turkey said on Thursday that sarin, a banned nerve agent, had been used in the attack, one of the worst atrocities of the Syrian war.
More from this morning's Situation Report on why the U.S. will have difficulty making this more than a one-off
What does this mean? As of Friday morning, “it’s not clear exactly what the administration seeks to achieve in Syria,” FP’s Paul McLeary writes. “Just a week ago, it signalled a willingness to let Assad continue in power — or why a limited strike on a single airfield would somehow change the calculus of the Syrian leader, who has deployed every weapon in his arsenal to crush the uprising that began in 2011.”
But “shifting the ongoing U.S. military effort in Syria to target the regime of Bashar al Assad and his forces, rather than the Islamic State, would be legally and operationally tricky,” FP notes in another analysis. Syria’s air defenses are robust, existing legal authorities to fight Islamist terrorists likely wouldn’t apply to a sovereign state like Syria, and Syrian, Iranian, and other forces backed by Tehran could make life difficult for the 1,000 U.S. troops on the ground in northern Syria.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Thursday night that “there has been no change” American policy on Assad. But he went after Moscow hard, charging, “either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent,” in keeping the Syrian government to its promise to destroy all of its chemical weapons. Tillerson is due in Moscow next week for a planned visit with top Kremlin officials.
From Russia with… Tillerson also called the strike on the airbase, from which the chemical weapons attack was launched, “proportional.” But Russian President Vladimir Putin disagrees. A Kremlin spokesman said Friday that the Russian leader “considers the American strikes against Syria an aggression against a sovereign government in violations of the norms of international law, and under a far-fetched pretext.” 
U.S. Defense officials have confirmed that the U.S. military communicated with their Russian counterparts in the hours before the attack, warning them off since Russian troops and helicopters are based at the airfield. On Friday, Moscow cancelled its involvement in a critical “hotline” that U.S. and Russian military officials have maintained since 2015 which allows officers from both countries to speak on a daily basis to ensure their fighter jets stay away from one another over Syria.
Russian response. The Russian frigate Admiral Grigorovich, entered the Mediterranean on Friday, according to Russian news outlet TASS, and is heading toward Tartus, the Russian port in Syria. The ship is armed with Kalibr cruise missiles, a government official said. A Kremlin official added that Moscow is undertaking “a number of measures aimed at strengthening and improving the effectiveness of the Syrian air defense order to protect the vital parts of the Syrian infrastructure.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also slammed the attack on Friday, calling it “an act of aggression under a completely far-fetched pretext.” He compared it to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, “when the US and the UK, along with some of their allies, invaded Iraq without the consent of the UN Security Council and in violation of international law.”
Naked Capitalism has a few comments that this attack is not playing well with Trump's Breitbart base.

Of course it is not. What caused Obama to shelve the cruise missiles in 2013 was the overwhelming public reaction opposing such an attack on Syria. People had learned their lesson from Iraq. Obama got cold feet and reached for the olive branch Russia handed him in the form of Syria's offer to relinquish its chemical weapons stockpile.

Public opposition necessitated the rise of the black-clad ninja-like black-flag-waving bogeymen of the Islamic State, a spook agency creation if ever there was one.

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