A Syrian child receives treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syrias northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017.

A Syrian child receives treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syrias northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017.
Photo Credit: MOHAMED AL-BAKOUR

Chemical attack in Syria upends prospects of Russia-U.S. detente

U.S. cruise missile attacks against Syrian military targets believed to have been behind a deadly chemical weapons attack in northern Syria mark a new and unpredictable phase in the six-year-old war, says a Canadian expert.

The U.S. Navy launched 59 cruise missiles on Thursday in response to the attack in the northern Idlib province that killed at least 80 civilians, including 20 children in what President Donald Trump had called “a disgrace to humanity.”

Kyle Matthews, Senior Deputy Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University and a Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, says while the U.S. strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s air force degrades its capacity to carry out any other attacks against civilians and using chemical weapons, it also puts the trajectory of the wider conflict onto a path of possible confrontation with Russia.

(click to listen to the full interview with Kyle Matthews)

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U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.
U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017. © Handout . / Reuters

Russia warned on Friday that U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base could have “extremely serious” consequences. 

“We strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the U.S. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious,” Russia’s deputy U.N. envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged that the U.S. strikes were one step away from clashing with Russia’s military.

Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov listens during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at U.N. headquarters, April 5, 2017 in New York City.
Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov listens during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at U.N. headquarters, April 5, 2017 in New York City. © GI/Drew Angerer

“Clearly Syria is strategically very important to Russia and Russia will do whatever it can to defend the Assad regime, because its interests are supported by keeping Assad in power,” Matthews said.

Russia has already promised to boost Syria’s air defence system and is moving more equipment and a part of its navy closer to Syria, he said. Russian defence officials also announced that Russia is suspending an agreement with the U.S. designed to avoid collisions between their air forces over Syria.

“We don’t know where this is going, I hope cool heads will prevail and we can focus on actually trying to stop this conflict,” said Matthews.

 U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley holds up photos of victims of the Syrian chemical attack during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at U.N. headquarters, April 5, 2017 in New York City.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley holds up photos of victims of the Syrian chemical attack during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at U.N. headquarters, April 5, 2017 in New York City. © GI/Drew Angerer

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Friday the Trump administration was ready to take further steps if needed.

“We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary,” she told the U.N. Security Council. “The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used. It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.”

However, the confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime could derail Trump’s plans to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin in fighting ISIS. The U.S. is already involved in the conflict in Syria and has a number of special forces soldiers working with Kurdish groups fighting Islamic State militants in the east of the country, trying to retake the terror group’s stronghold of Raqqa, Matthews said.

“They really needed the support of support of the Syrian government at least in some manner but also Russia and now it appears that’s going to become a major challenge,” he said.

Asked whether the strikes set back any efforts to work with Russia to defeat ISIS, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said:

“There can be a shared commitment to defeat ISIS and also agree that you can’t gas your own people.”

U.S. President Donald Trump is shown in an official White House handout image meeting with his National Security team and being briefed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford via secure video teleconference after a missile strike on Syria while inside the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility at his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. April 6, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump is shown in an official White House handout image meeting with his National Security team and being briefed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford via secure video teleconference after a missile strike on Syria while inside the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility at his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. April 6, 2017. © Handout . / Reuters

His robust response to the poison gas use in Syria allows Trump to score some much needed political points at home and to differentiate himself from the previous Obama administration, which baulked at the idea of using force in response to a much bigger chemical weapons incident in 2013. It also portrays him as someone who is willing to uphold international law and to punish a regime that’s using chemical weapons against its own population, Matthews said.

“We’ve seen chemical weapons be used multiple times in this conflict and every time there was never anything done seriously to hold [responisble] Assad or some of the rebels that had used other chemical agents,” Matthews said. “It’s an ugly conflict, it’s a devastating conflict and up to this point most Western governments haven’t shown any leadership in trying to uphold the chemical weapons treaty, trying to uphold the responsibility to protect, trying to uphold all sorts of human rights and international humanitarian law that’s been broken over and over again.”

Posted in International, Politics

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One comment on “Chemical attack in Syria upends prospects of Russia-U.S. detente
  1. Rene Albert says:

    So what? Better than let the impotent United Nations letting Putin do what he wants, where he wants and when he wants…no one else was up to the job!