Russia has revealed its intentions to upgrade air defences in Syria as a response to the US firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into the country on early Friday. The missiles were targeting an air base believed to have been used by the Assad regime to launch an alleged chemical weapons attack on its civilians.
“To protect key Syrian infrastructure a range of measures will be taken reinforce and improve the effectiveness of the Syrian armed forces air defence,” the Russian ministry of defence said in a statement after the missile strike. This could worsen US-Russia relations under a US President who was expected to cooperate with its traditional rival.
Russia will also send a warship to the eastern Mediterranean, in close proximity to Syria, in order to help defend the country. This comes as Russia accuses the US of breaking international law and suspends a key air agreement it had signed with the latter.
The memorandum of understanding was signed between the two nations in 2015 in order to encourage air safety above Syria by “minimising the risk of in-flight incidents among coalition and Russian aircraft operating in Syrian airspace”.
This has raised tensions in Syrian airspace as aircraft accidents are at a considerably higher risk in an already war-torn region. It raises the risk of direct confrontation between Russia and the US if two of its aircraft collide or face confrontation in the skies above Syria.
The Kremlin considers these missile strikes as a direct attack on Syria’s sovereignty, with a Kremlin spokesman saying Russian President Putin saw this as an act of “aggression against a sovereign nation”. Russia has also called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss this issue.
Prior to the US deployment of missiles, Russia warned the US to take “considered action” to resolve the issue in response to what it described as a “hasty” reaction by Trump to the chemical weapons incident in Syria. But this has been in vain, with recent events showing the US is always prepared to impose its dominance whenever it feels necessary.
While Russia has previously stated it will use its anti-aircraft missiles located in Syria to intercept any US military action against the nation, it thankfully has not chosen to act upon its word this time. Anti-US aggression may have been seen as too premature and irrational to respond to US strikes against a Syrian air base, along with the fact that the US was not attempting to remove Assad.
This episode raises the risk of direct confrontation between Russia and the US, but the former still seems adamant on pursuing peaceful relations with its rival. Trump’s election to the White House was heavily influenced by his peaceful attitude towards Russia, and to avoid Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy as much as possible, which places the US President under greater scrutiny by his base and the wider world.