U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base were one step away from clashing with the Russian military, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged on Friday, underscoring the risks in U.S. President Donald Trump’s first major foray into the Syrian civil war.
U.S. officials informed Russian forces ahead of the strikes, which were intended to punish the Syrian government for what they said was a chemical weapons attack, and avoided hitting Russian personnel, reports Reuters.
In the biggest foreign policy decision of his presidency, Trump ordered a step his predecessor Barack Obama never took: targeting the Syrian military. Washington says Syrian government forces carried out a poison gas attack in northern Syria this week that killed at least 70 people.
The U.S. action catapulted Washington into confrontation with Russia, which has military advisers on the ground aiding its ally, President Bashar al-Assad.
Satellite imagery suggests the Shayrat air base that was
struck by dozens of U.S. missiles is home to Russian special forces and military helicopters, part of the Kremlin’s effort to help the Syrian government fight Islamic State and other militant groups.
Medvedev, on social media, said the strikes were illegal and had been “one step away from military clashes with Russia.”
Trump has frequently called for improved relations with Russia which were strained under Obama, but the U.S. president said action had to be taken against Assad.
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” Trump said as he announced the attack from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where he was meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,” he said, adding: “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”