Wednesday morning, President Trump singled out Syria and Russia in a series of tweets, outlining his intent to begin missile strikes against Syria, describing the weapons “nice and new and ‘smart!,’” and that Russia should rethink its partnership with Syria. He went on to describe Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as a “Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
The condemnation of al-Assad isn't surprising as many world leaders have condemned his actions against his own people, including the recent alleged chemical attack against Syrian civilians. What is surprising is the hypocritical statement that telegraphs the president's planned military response against Syria. Trump previously ridiculed other world leaders, including President Obama, for similar statements, claiming they gave advantageous information to enemies. (There's always a tweet.)
It appears that is exactly what happened here, as the Syrian government moved multiple aircraft to a Russian base near Latakia following the president's comments, and is preparing defenses for its vital weapons systems. Russia signaled its alliance with Syria will continue, with Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin warning the president Tuesday that any missiles fired at Syria will be shot down.
The president commented on current relations between the U.S. and the Kremlin in another tweet, stating, “Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.”
Trump’s characterization of the relationship between the two powers mirrors comments made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the U.S. and the closing of a Russian embassy in Seattle last month.
Parsing out the exact nature of the chemical attack in Syria is providing even more strain on the relationship. The U.S. believe the attack, which left multiple civilians dead, was carried out by al-Assad on his own people, though Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed that the U.S. is still assessing related intelligence. Russia continues to place responsibility on Syrian opposition forces, with Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova stating that if American missiles were so smart, then they should hit “terrorists” and not government targets.
Wednesday, the World Health Organization reported that roughly 500 people in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, have symptoms like those suffered by people exposed to toxic chemicals. 43 of the reported 70 people that died while taking shelter during the attack showed signs of being exposed to “highly toxic chemicals.”