Russia says US strikes in Syria ‘play into extremists’ hands’

Boris Johnson cancels Moscow visit over Kremlin’s continued defence of Assad regime


Russian minister for foreign affairs Sergei Lavrov and US secretary of state Rex Tillerson spoke by phone on Saturday about the situation in Syria after US strikes on a Syrian air base, the Russian foreign ministry has said in a statement.

Mr Lavrov pointed out that “an attack on a country whose government fights terrorism only plays into the hands of extremists [and] creates additional threats to regional and global security”, the ministry said.

He also told Mr Tillerson that reports that the Syrian military used chemical weapons in an attack in Idlib province on April 4th did not correspond to reality, the ministry added.

It said Mr Lavrov and his US counterpart agreed to continue discussions on Syria in person.

Mr Tillerson is expected in Moscow for talks with Russian officials next week.

Russia had warned on Friday that the US cruise missile strikes on the Syrian air base could have “extremely serious” consequences, following US president Donald Trump’s first major foray into a foreign conflict.

The warships USS Porter and USS Ross in the Mediterranean Sea launched dozens of Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base, which the Pentagon says was involved in a chemical weapons attack this week.

Washington claims the poison gas attack by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces killed at least 70 people in rebel-held territory in Idlib province.

Syria denies it carried out the attack.

The strikes have catapulted Washington into confrontation with Russia, which has advisers on the ground aiding Mr Assad, its close ally.

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

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev also said that the US strikes were one step away from clashes with Russia’s military.

US officials informed Russian forces ahead of the missile strikes and avoided hitting Russian personnel.

Satellite imagery suggests the base houses Russian special forces and helicopters, part of the Kremlin’s effort to help Mr Assad fight Islamic State and other militant groups.

Boris Johnson

Earlier on Saturday, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson pulled out of a planned visit to Moscow in the wake of the reported chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces, saying: “We deplore Russia’s continued defence of the Assad regime.”

Mr Johnson was due to visit Russia on Monday for talks with Mr Lavrov, which would have been the first visit to the country by a British foreign secretary in more than five years.

However, on Saturday, Mr Johnson cancelled the visit, attacking the Kremlin and saying he would instead focus on building support with allies to secure a ceasefire in war-torn Syria.

“We deplore Russia’s continued defence of the Assad regime, even after the chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians,” he said.

“We call on Russia to do everything possible to bring about a political settlement in Syria and work with the rest of the international community to ensure that the shocking events of the last week are never repeated.”

Reuters and PA