US Strike on Syrian Regime Diverts Attention from Civilian Deaths in Iraq, Putin Says

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen here attending a meeting with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev (not pictured) at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, 05 April 2017. Photo: Pavel Golovkin/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Russian President Putin has denounced US strike against the regime of Russia’s ally Assad as an ‘act of aggression’ and ‘international law violation’.
  • Assad’s chemical weapons were destroyed, as confirmed by a UN body, Putin’s spokesman has argued.
  • US has disregarded use of chemical weapons ‘by terrorists’, the spokesman has said reiterating earlier Russian claims exculpating Assad.
  • US missile strike in Syria is diverting global attention from civilian deaths caused by US-led international coalition in Iraq’s Mosul, Putin believes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the US missile strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over a recent attack with chemical weapons in Syria’s Idlib province as an “act of aggression”.

Putin’s reaction has been presented by his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, after earlier US President Trump made it clear that the strike was in retaliation to the “horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians” purportedly carried out by the Assad regime.

On Thursday night (Friday morning in Syria), Trump ordered a strike with Tomahawk missiles on the Shayrat Airfield in Homs province in Western Syria, a military air base of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in response Tuesday’s attack with chemical weapons which reportedly killed dozens of civilians, including many children, in Khan Sheikhun, Idlib province, in Northwest Syria.

The missile strike was launched from two US destroyers in the Mediterranean, and struck the Al-Shayrat Air Base in Homs province because it was from this base that the chemical attack on Syria’s Idlib province was launched.

The US Department of Defense has said the missile strike has damaged Syrian aircraft and the air field reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons.

Under joint pressure by the USA and Russia, in 2013 the Assad regime agreed to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile and sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The international pressure was in reaction to the Syrian government’s use of sarin gas on a Damascus suburb in August 2013.

In spite of joining the CWC, however, the Syrian regime continued to use chemical weapons. A UN panel, the Joint Investigative Mechanism, discovered that Assad had resorted to chemical weapons at least three times since then.

Even though the Mechanism was established with Russia’s participation, Moscow disagreed with its conclusions.

Under President Vladimir Putin, in October 2015, Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War, which started as “Arab Spring” civil unrest, rescuing the Assad regime from collapsing, and helping it crack down on the moderate opposition rebels, while avoiding focusing its air and missile strikes explicitly on the ISIS terror group (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).

In February 2017, international NGO Human Rights Watch reported that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had carried out chemical attacks with chlorine against the rebel forces in Aleppo, which the regime conquered back in December 2016 with Russian help, after the major Syrian city had been in opposition control since 2012.

‘Violating Norms of International Law’

The US missile strike against Syria’s facilities was an act of aggression and impairs both Russian-US relations and the key goal of fighting international terrorism, Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday, as cited by Russian state-run news agency TASS.

Peskov made it explicitly clear he was citing the opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“President Putin considers the US strikes against Syria an act of aggression against a sovereign country violating the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that,” Peskov stressed.

He alleged that the Syrian army had no stockpiles of chemical weapons.

A man watches US President Donald J. Trump announcing US strikes in Syria, on a computer screen in Moscow, Russia, 07 April 2017. Photo: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

“The fact that all Syrian armed forces’ chemical weapons stockpiles were eliminated was registered and confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a specialized UN unit,” he highlighted.

“Putin believes that the total disregard for the use of chemical weapons by terrorists only exacerbates the situation significantly,” Peskov added.

He was likely referring to Russian Defense Ministry’s allegations that the fatalities in Khan Sheikhun may have resulted from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad bombing a rebel-controlled depot for chemical arms. The Russian allegations have been dismissed by the United States.

“Putin also sees the strikes on Syria by the US as an attempt to divert the attention of the international community from numerous civilian casualties in Iraq,” Putin’s spokesman said, apparently referring to airstrikes in the city of Mosul in mid-March by the US-led international coalition.

The US military has admitted the possibility the said coalition airstrike may have killed a large number of civilians during the campaign of the Iraqi government and coalition forces to drive the ISIS terrorist group (“Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”) out of Mosul.

“Washington’s move substantially impairs Russian-US relations, which are in a deplorable state as it is,” Peskov emphasized.

In his words, Putin believes that US missile strike against the Syrian regime “does not bring us closer to the ultimate goal in the fight against international terrorism”.

“By the way, US President Donald Trump proclaimed this as one of the key objectives during his election campaign,” the Kremlin spokesman said.

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