Missile Strikes on Syria Put US Relationship With Russia at Risk
In a joint statement, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President François Hollande of France said that Mr. Assad, the Syrian president, “bears sole responsibility.”
A spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Ibrahim Kalin, said the American strikes had been a positive response to “war crimes” in Syria, where the six-year civil war has led to nearly 400,000 deaths and created a refugee crisis as millions sought to flee. Mr. Kalin also repeated Turkey’s call to immediately set up and enforce a no-fly zone to create safe areas in Syria for those fleeing the violence.
The American strikes were also praised by Israel and by Saudi Arabia, two crucial allies of the United States in the Middle East. In a statement carried by the state news agency SPA, a Saudi official called the strikes a “courageous decision” by Mr. Trump. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he hoped the action would “resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.”
Mr. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, gave no clear indication of how Russia might respond, and analysts suggested that the Kremlin had few options.
Russia could treat the strikes as a one-time event, limiting its response to criticizing the American aggression and conceding a revitalized American influence in the region. American officials have indicated that no other strikes were planned for the immediate future.
Russia could also try to confront the Americans more directly, but that would have unpredictable consequences. “There will be many screams on the Russian television with people condemning the strikes, but everybody understands that this is just a symbolic act meant for Trump to look different from Obama,” Vladimir Frolov, a foreign affairs analyst, said in an interview. “There won’t be any tangible reaction; this was a one-off strike.”
Others suggested that the lack of a Russian military reaction in Syria pointed to a realistic approach.
“Its initial response was to huff and puff and call it unprovoked aggression, of course; it could do nothing less,” Mark Galeotti, an expert on the Russian military, wrote in an online commentary. He noted that Russia’s state-of-the-art air defense system, which had been deployed to Syria with great fanfare, was apparently not used against the American attack.
“Moscow might not like Washington’s response, but nor was it willing to stand in the way of it,” he said. “That is a heartening sign of realism.”
Moscow might wait to formulate a response until Tuesday, when Mr. Tillerson, the former head of Exxon Mobil and an old friend of the Kremlin, is set to make his first visit to Russia as secretary of state.
Mr. Peskov said that the American attack would do nothing to advance the fight against international terrorism, which he called a priority for Mr. Putin and which he noted had also been a main pledge of the Trump campaign.
“Most important, from Putin’s point of view, this move doesn’t bring us closer to the end goal in a fight against international terrorism,” Mr. Peskov said. “On the contrary, this creates a serious obstacle for the building of an international coalition to fight it and to effectively resist this universal evil.”
Mr. Putin dispatched the Russian Army to Syria, which has long been Russia’s main ally in the Middle East, in September 2015 with the stated goal of fighting terrorism, although the main purpose of the deployment was to shore up Mr. Assad, whose rule was faltering.
Other officials were quick to compare the cruise missile attack to other American interventions, in the Middle East and elsewhere, that had ended poorly.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, compared the attack to the American invasion of Iraq. “This is reminiscent of the 2003 situation, when the United States and the United Kingdom, along with their allies, invaded Iraq without the U.N. Security Council’s consent,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference on Friday after a meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, between foreign ministers of former Soviet states.
The question of whether the United States invaded Iraq without the approval of the Security Council has long been a matter of debate. Washington has asserted that previous resolutions gave it the authority to take action, but critics have argued that it needed explicit United Nations approval.
Russia has repeatedly defended Syria against the accusation that Damascus has used chemical weapons. In this case, Moscow said the strike on Tuesday had actually hit a chemical weapons warehouse controlled by insurgents, a version of events that has been widely dismissed by the West.
General Konashenkov also repeated the Russian assertion that all chemical weapons had been removed from Syrian government stockpiles, and he called on the United States to present evidence that Damascus had used them.
Mr. Peskov asserted that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had declared Syria to be free of chemical weapons, although it did not quite do that.
In an initial statement after the attack on Tuesday, the organization said it was seriously concerned about the allegations and wanted to gather more information before coming to a judgment.
“The O.P.C.W. strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances,” the group said.
Mr. Peskov said that the United States had launched its attack to distract attention from the high number of civilian casualties caused by a recent American airstrike in Mosul, Iraq.