Tensions Running High in Syria

The US president warns Russia in tweets over an imminent missile attack on Syria as the Kremlin warns military action could heighten instability
Members of Syrian army forces in Jobar, eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria on April 2.Members of Syrian army forces in Jobar, eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria on April 2.

US President Donald Trump warned Russia on Wednesday of imminent military action in Syria over a suspected poison gas attack, declaring that missiles “will be coming” and lambasting Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Trump was reacting to a warning from Assad’s main ally Russia on Tuesday that any US missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted, Reuters reported.

“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.  

In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a Facebook post that “smart missiles should fly toward terrorists, not toward the lawful government.”

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said any US missile strike could be an attempt to destroy evidence of the reported chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma, for which Damascus and Moscow have denied any responsibility.

After the attack, the rebel group holed up in Douma—Jaish al-Islam—finally agreed to withdraw from the town. That sealed a major victory for Assad in Syria’s civil war.

Officials at the White House did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for more details about Trump’s comments on the planned military action. The US Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that 43 people had died in Saturday’s attack on Douma from “symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals”, and more than 500 in all had been treated.

Moscow’s threat to down US missiles came from its ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, who said he was referring to a statement by President Vladimir Putin and the Russian armed forces chief of staff.

Zasypkin also said any hostilities with Washington should be avoided and Moscow was ready for negotiations.

But his remarks could raise fears of direct conflict for the first time between major powers backing opposing sides in Syria’s protracted civil war.

Oil prices hit their highest level in more than three years on Wednesday after Trump’s threat to unleash missiles, and US stock index futures fell sharply over rising concern about possible Russian-US conflict over Syria.

The Kremlin said earlier on Wednesday it hoped all sides involved in Syria would avoid doing anything to destabilize an already fragile situation in the Middle East, and made clear it strongly opposed any US strike on its ally.


Moscow and Washington stymied attempts by each other at the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to set up international investigations into chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Trump canceled on Tuesday a planned trip to Latin America later this week to focus instead on talks with western allies about possible military action to punish Assad over the suspected gas attack.

Trump had warned on Monday of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the attack was established.

“If there is a strike by the Americans, then ... the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin, the Russian ambassador, told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV, speaking in Arabic.

The Russian military said on March 13 that it would respond to any US strike on Syria by targeting any missiles and launchers involved. Russia is Assad’s most powerful ally and its air power has helped him wrest back large areas of territory from rebels since 2015.

Zasypkin also said a clash between Russia and the United States over Syria “should be ruled out and therefore we are ready to hold negotiations”.

  Missile Salvo From Mediterranean?

Any US strike is likely to involve the navy, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defense systems. A US Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean.

With tensions growing, pan-European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol warned airlines to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria over the next 72 hours.

Eurocontrol said that air-to-ground and cruise missiles could be used within that period and there could be intermittent disruptions of radio navigation equipment.

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