Russia has revealed it warned the US about “red lines” it should not cross before it launched airstrikes on Syria.
Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is reported to have said that officials in Washington were contacted before last weekend’s strikes by the US, UK and France.
Mr Lavrov said: “There were military leadership contacts, between generals, between our representatives and the coalition leadership.
“They were informed about where our red lines are, including red lines on the ground, geographically. And the results show that they did not cross these red lines.”
Some 105 missiles were launched in response to a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma on 7 April that killed more than 40 people.
The Kremlin had threatened retaliatory action if strikes were launched – but it now appears there was at least some level of cooperation.
Russia, a key ally of Syria, has denied that any chemical attack took place.
International inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Damascus almost a week ago but are still waiting to visit the site of the suspected attack.
Mr Lavrov says that, following the airstrikes, it is morally free to deliver S-300 missiles to the Syrian regime.
He said: “Now, we have no moral obligations. We had the moral obligations, we had promised not to do it some 10 years ago, I think, upon the request of our known partners.
“We took into consideration their claim that this could destabilise the situation. Even though it’s purely defensive. Now we don’t have this moral obligation any longer.”
Military analysts say the S-300 surface-to-air missile system would boost Russia’s ability to control airspace in Syria, where Moscow’s forces support the government of President Bashar al Assad and could be aimed at deterring tougher US action. (Sky News)
Naval observer Yoruk Isik said it was headed for Tartus, Russia’s coastal base in Syria, for the fourth time. It was loaded up with appeared to be tanks, lorries and military hardware.
Mr Isik highlighted that a Pelena-6 communications jammer looks to have been installed on the chassis of one of the tanks.
A second ship, the yellow tanker RoRo Alexandr Tkachenko was also pictured carrying trucks and materials for bridge construction.
It comes as Theresa May faces a backlash for snubbing MPs before joining the US-led assault. It’s claimed hackers could release embarrassing information about politicians as part of a two-pronged “dirty war” in retaliation for the bombing of Syria.
Spy chiefs also fear the Russian President is plotting a series of cyber attacks that could potentially cripple infrastructure – including the NHS, transport and power networks.
Intelligence officers at GCHQ and the Ministry of Defence are said to be on standby to respond to any cyber warfare “proportionately”.
The US, Britain and France hit three sites in Syria in response to a suspected deadly chlorine attack that killed up to 75 in former rebel stronghold Douma.
Last night Russian president Putin branded the missile strikes on his ally an “act of aggression” and warned further attacks would “have a destructive effect” on world peace.
PM Theresa May has reportedly received intelligence Russia could hit members of the UK establishment with “kompromat” – compromising information that could smear their reputations.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Moscow had a track record of cyber attacks and meddling in other countries’ democratic processes.
He told the BBC: “You have to take every precaution, and when you look at what Russia has done, not just in this country, in Salisbury, attacks on TV stations, on the democratic processes, on critical national infrastructure – of course, we have to be very, very cautious.
“But I want to stress, we in the UK do not seek an escalation, absolutely not.”
Mr Johnson said Western powers had no plans for further strikes but would assess their options if Syria’s government used chemical weapons again. He added: “This is not about regime change … This is not about trying to turn the tide of the conflict in Syria.”
Former Minister for Security, Alan West, also warned Britain could be the target of a dirty war as Putin tries to “hit back”. He said it was unlikely Russia would launch military action but would “find other ways”.
Lord West added: “I think he [Putin] will be wanting to do something. It might be a little bit of cyber. He’ll do something but he’s not going to go for missiles in Akrotiri [RAF base in Cyprus] or something like that.”
Michael Clarke, an academic specialising in defence studies, told our sister paper the Sunday Mirror an attack could be imminent in the next two or three weeks. He added: “Cyber warfare is highly likely. It will be an attack on national infrastructure, not just upsetting City firms, but getting inside the transport system, or the health system, or air traffic control.”
According to reports, Mrs May has been warned politicians could be singled out in any Russian cyber attack – as Hillary Clinton was during the US presidential election. One source told the Sunday Times: “We know what’s in the Russian playbook, kompromat type material, we’re all prepared for that.
“We know that they do have that ability to penetrate at that scale.
“We’re not saying there’s a picture of ‘X’ that’s waiting to come out but it’ll be amazing to us if they don’t have some of that kind of material.”
Referring to a possible counter cyber attack by Britain, the source added: “If they aggressively come after us, we will certainly have the ability to do some stuff to them. But unlike Russia, we abide by the law so anything we do would be proportionately done.”
It also emerged the PM is ready to order economic sanctions on London-based Russian oligarchs.
And Nikki Haley, US envoy to the UN, said new sanctions would be announced today against Russian firms linked to Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad.
Saturday morning’s strikes represented the most significant attack against Assad’s government by Western powers in seven years of Syria’s civil war. US officials claimed attacks on sites in Barzeh, Damascus, and Him Shinsar, west of Homs, had set Assad’s chemical weapons programme back years.
The Russians and the US said there were no reported casualties. After the strikes, the US revealed a Russian “disinformation campaign” had already begun.
The Pentagon’s Dana White said there was “a 2,000% increase in Russian trolls in 24 hours”.
The Kremlin is also thought to be boosting the number of spies in the UK – weeks after former agent Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury.
Colonel Richard Kemp, who led Operation Fingal in Afghanistan in 2002, said: “The Russians will be seeing us as more of a direct enemy. I think the likelihood is they will be increasing their espionage activity.”
Yesterday inspectors from the independent Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were in the Syrian capital Damascus. They met Syrian officials and were set to visit nearby Douma, in Eastern Ghouta.
The Syrian army announced on Saturday the region had been cleared of the last rebel fighters.
Some locals claimed yesterday the bombing against was less intense than expected. One supporter of the anti-Assad opposition, said: “It wasn’t as intense as they’re making it sound.
“We have no more faith in the international community.”
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has defended his use of the phrase “Mission Accomplished” following the allied attack.
George W. Bush said the same thing six weeks into the 2003 Iraq War, also declaring “major combat operations in Iraq have ended”.
It became a global symbol of US misjudgment and mistakes as the conflict continued to rage for years.
Mr Trump tweeted yesterday: “The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term ‘Mission Accomplished’.”
He added: “I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term.” (Mirror)
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson acknowledged the threat yesterday, saying the UK had to take ‘every possible precaution’.
It is feared vital transport systems, water supplies, gas networks, banks, hospitals and even air traffic control could be hacked by Russia in response to the assault on Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons facilities.
Intelligence sources also fear the retaliation could involve the online release of so-called ‘kompromat’ – compromising information on MPs or other public figures.
The Syria crisis will dominate the return of Parliament today, with Mrs May facing the prospect of MPs voting against her decision to join Friday night’s US-led strikes to punish the Assad regime for the use of chemical weapons in Douma.
In a robust defence of her actions, the Prime Minister will deliver a statement to MPs insisting that Britain had to strike Syria ‘in our national interest’.
And she will invoke the Salisbury poisonings, saying that military action was essential to help deter any future use of chemical weapons ‘on the streets of the UK’.
On Saturday, Russia warned of ‘consequences’ after the air strikes.
Moscow has already launched repeated online assaults against the UK and intelligence chiefs fear they have the capability to hack into certain critical systems. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think we have to take every possible precaution.
‘When you look at what Russia has done, not just in this country, in Salisbury, attacks on TV stations, on the democratic processes, on critical national infrastructure – of course, we have to be very, very cautious indeed.’ A National Cyber Security Centre spokesman added: ‘We are always vigilant to attacks wherever they come from and we have a full spectrum of capabilities to draw on if required.’
Intelligence experts accept that the most likely response from Russia will be through covert cyber warfare. This would be on top of an avalanche of fake news planted by Moscow-run online trolls.
Last week, Ciaran Martin, director of the cybersecurity centre, warned that Russia had already repeatedly ‘hit’ the UK’s critical infrastructure. This includes vital systems such as water supplies, electricity and gas networks, hospitals, banks and transport.
And one security source told The Sunday Times: ‘We know what’s in the Russian playbook – kompromat-type material – we’re all prepared for that.’
In the hours after the strikes, Moscow’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said: ‘The worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard. A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.
‘All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris. Insulting the president of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.’ Putin condemned the strikes as an ‘act of aggression against a sovereign state’ and accused the US and its allies of violating the ‘norms and principles of international law’. Putin even accused America of having ‘staged a chemical attack against civilians’ as a ‘pretext’ for the attack.
One Russian politician even compared Mr Trump to Adolf Hitler. Alexander Sherin said he ‘can be called Adolf Hitler No 2 of our time – because you see, he even chose the same time [of night] that Hitler chose to attack the Soviet Union’.
A Russian resolution at the UN Security Council condemning the air strikes was soundly defeated on Saturday night. Moscow gained support from only two countries, China and Bolivia. Four council members – Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Peru and Equatorial Guinea – abstained, while the remaining eight members voted against.
At the same time, Mrs May has faced considerable criticism for not recalling Parliament to gain approval for joining the US-led action.
Tory MPs returning from recess this week have been told they have to be in the Commons today and tomorrow in case there is a vote on her handling of the Syria crisis.
Last night, however, Downing Street officials said they believed a Commons vote was unlikely to take place – although they did not rule out the possibility that Opposition parties could force one later in the week.
Mrs May will tell MPs: ‘Let me be absolutely clear. We have acted because it is in our national interest to do so.’ (The Daily Mail)
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration plans to impose new sanctions against Russia on Monday to punish it for enabling the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in its civil war, the latest in a series of actions by both sides underscoring the deterioration in relations between Moscow and the West.
The sanctions, coming shortly after American-led airstrikes against facilities linked to Syria’s chemical weapons, are meant to signal that the United States holds responsible not just the Damascus government of President Bashar al-Assad but also his patrons in Russia and Iran. President Trump has vowed that Syria’s allies will pay a “big price” for permitting his use of poison gas.
The sanctions were announced on Sunday by Nikki R. Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations and the administration’s leading public voice excoriating Russia in recent days. “They will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use,” she said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “And so I think everyone is going to feel it at this point. I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message and our hope is that they listen to it.”
Mr Trump has tried through most of his presidency to forge a friendship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and avoid criticizing him personally even as a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, investigated whether his campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election. But in recent weeks, Mr Trump’s administration has taken increasing action against Russia, and the president singled out Mr Putin over Syria’s use of chemical weapons on Twitter and again in a televised speech on Friday night.
New sanctions on Monday would be the third round enacted by the Trump administration against Russia in the past four weeks. Last month the administration targeted Russian companies and individuals for intervening in the 2016 election and mounting cyber attacks against Western facilities. It followed that this month with penalties against Mr Putin’s inner circle, singling out some of Russia’s richest men and top government officials.
The strikes against Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack that killed dozens in the Damascus suburb of Douma were designed to avoid provoking Russia into a response. By hitting just three targets and limiting the attack to a single night, the Trump administration seemed to keep it limited enough not to compel Moscow to lash back.
But Ms Haley said the administration was determined to make Moscow pay a price for supporting Mr Assad, noting that it had vetoed six United Nations resolutions related to Syria and chemical weapons.
“Assad knew that Russia had its back,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Assad knew that Russia would cover for him at the United Nations and Assad got reckless and he used it in a way that was far more aggressive.” (The New York Times)
President Trump on Saturday declared “mission accomplished” after approving airstrikes with the United Kingdom and France against chemical weapons production facilities in Syria the previous night.
“A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!” Trump tweeted.
“So proud of our great Military which will soon be, after the spending of billions of fully approved dollars, the finest that our Country has ever had. There won’t be anything, or anyone, even close!” he added in another tweet.
Trump announced late Friday during a televised address at the White House that he had ordered “precision strikes” on targets in Syria associated with the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad. The strikes targeted three sites near the capital of Damascus and in Homs, roughly 100 miles north.
U.S. defence officials were expected to give details on Saturday on the effectiveness of the strikes. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday night characterized the strikes as a stronger response to Assad than a strike against a Syrian air base last year following a previous chemical weapons attack.
“Clearly the Assad regime did not get the message last year,” Mattis told reporters in a press briefing at the Pentagon. “This time our allies and we have struck harder.”
“We used a little over double the number of weapons this year than we used last year,” Mattis added. “We were very precise and proportionate, but at the same time, it was a heavy strike.”
Mattis said no additional strikes against Syria were planned.
“Right now, this is a one-time shot,” he told reporters.
Trump announced the new strikes Friday night, which was coordinated with France and the U.K., following a week of deliberation and discussions with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emanuel Macron over an apparent chemical weapons attack last weekend.
The U.S. and other Western countries have blamed Assad’s government for the attack in the Syrian town of Douma last weekend that left more than 40 people dead.
Syria and its allies, Iran and Russia, have denied that the Assad government used chemical weapons. On Saturday, leaders from all three countries denounced the joint U.S.-led strikes, with Russian President Vladimir Putin calling it an “act of aggression.”
Russian state-owned television is urging the country’s residents to stock their bunkers with water and basic foodstuffs because Moscow could go to war with Washington.
Warning that the potential conflict between the two superpowers would be “catastrophic,” an anchor for Russia’s Vesti 24 showed off shelves of food, recommending that people buy salt, oatmeal and other products that can last a long time on the shelves. Powdered milk lasts five years while sugar and rice can last up to eight years, the newscaster explained before showing videos of pasta cooking in a bomb shelter.
The channel’s newscasters also displayed charts explaining how much water people need to store for drinking, washing their face and hands, and preparing food every day—and how that amount changes depending on the temperature of a person’s bomb shelter. The program also recommended that people stock up on gas masks and read guides on how to survive a nuclear war.
Related: Russian warships put to sea from Syrian naval base (Fox News
Russian warships put to sea from Syrian naval base
The program aired just one day after sources told Newsweek that “there is a major war scare” in Moscow, as President Donald Trump prepares to strike Syria in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons against civilians over the weekend. The Trump administration has said it believes Syria’s Russian-backed President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the attacks, and it plans to ensure that Assad pays the price. Russian military forces have responded by saying that Moscow would meet fire with fire and said that it will shoot down any U.S. missiles.
“If there is a strike by the Americans, then the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” warned Alexander Zasypkin, Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, during an interview on Tuesday with a television station linked to Hezbollah.
The increasingly bellicose rhetoric has sparked fears that a conflict could break out between two nuclear-armed superpowers. On Wednesday morning, Trump took to Twitter to issue a stark warning to Russia, which he accused of partnering with “a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
But he later walked back the statement, calling for an end to the arms race with Russia. Newsweek
Theresa May was poised last night to defy calls for a Commons vote on military action in Syria
The Prime Minister summoned ministers back to London to seek their support for joining an American-led attack on the Assad regime within days.
Clearing the way for action, she declared the use of chemical weapons could not go unchallenged and said ‘all the indications’ suggested that Bashar Assad’s forces were responsible for Saturday’s atrocity near Damascus.
Military chiefs are said to have ordered British submarines armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles to move within range of Syria.
Despite fears of a military confrontation with Russia, no preparations are being made to recall MPs from their Easter recess. It is understood No 10 believes it can launch a one-off, punitive strike without consulting Parliament.
Donald Trump dramatically escalated the crisis yesterday by telling Russia to ‘get ready’ because ‘nice and new and smart’ cruise missiles would be coming.
He warned Vladimir Putin not to stand by President Assad, who he described as a ‘gas killing animal’.
Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon had said his country was ready to target US planes and ships if they fired at Syrian regime forces. That would effectively lead to a state of war, according to Sir Richard Barrons, a senior former military commander.
And Julian Lewis, who chairs the Commons defence committee, was among MPs to warn of the risks of intervention. ‘Embroiling ourselves in a military clash with Russia in the context of a civil war between an inhumane government and opposition-controlled by jihadi fanatics is not a sensible one, to put it mildly,’ he said.
In other developments:
British officials were said to be in talks with their counterparts in France and the US about which military assets should be deployed for military action.
‘We are committed to deter and prevent the use of chemical weapons,’ said a government source.
‘We now have to establish the best way of getting there, and those conversations are carrying on, officials are speaking to their counterparts in France and America right now. In terms of precisely what happens next, that is still to be confirmed.’
The PM will hold a Cabinet meeting this afternoon. Ministers were understood to be privately urging her to act, although is not clear whether the British public would support an expansion of military action in Syria.
Brexit Secretary David Davis voted against military action against the Assad regime in 2013.
Speaking on a visit to Birmingham yesterday, Mrs May said: ‘The continued use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged.’
Asked whether she was concerned about Mr Trump’s tweet, she replied: ‘We are working with our allies, we have been working to get an understanding of what happened on the ground. We are rapidly reaching that understanding. All the indications are that the Syrian regime was responsible.
‘We will be working with our closest allies on how we can ensure that those who are responsible are held to account and how we can prevent and deter the humanitarian catastrophe that comes from the use of chemical weapons in the future.’
Tory MP Mr Lewis insisted there should be a vote before the UK took action. ‘There is a real danger that what starts out as justified punishment for the use of chemical weapons ends up with the Royal Air Force serving as the air arm of the jihadi extremist rebels in Syria,’ he said.
‘It sends a very bad signal to the country that they don’t submit themselves to parliamentary scrutiny before involving in taking military action by choice in the context of a civil war where both sides equally atrocious.’
Tory colleague Bob Seely said: ‘Trump is declaring war on Twitter. Both Trump and Putin need to remember what the stakes are.
‘This crisis could escalate very quickly into a shooting war in Syria. If Russians are injured, the Kremlin will hit back. The most important thing our generation can achieve is to avoid actual conflict with Russia.
‘If we are reckless or thoughtless in our actions, it will make conflict now or in future more likely to happen.’
Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, said any US missiles fired at Syria would be shot down along with the ships or planes that fired them.
He told Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV: ‘If there is a strike by the Americans then … the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired.’
Then, in the early hours of yesterday morning, Mr Trump responded on Twitter, saying: ‘Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and smart! You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it.’
In a further tweet 40 minutes later, he said: ‘Our relationship with Russia is worse now that it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.
‘There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy.’
Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman responded by saying ‘smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not lawful government’.
General Barrons, who led the UK’s joint forces command until 2016, said of the Russian ambassador’s warning: ‘He is saying not only are they going to shoot down the missiles in flight, but by saying launch sites, he is saying they are going to try and sink ships, sink submarines and shoot aircraft out of the sky. That’s war.’
Charles Crawford, former British Ambassador to Bosnia, warned the range of options for dealing with the crisis varied between ‘terrible and catastrophic’.
Don’t attack without a vote, MPs from all parties urge May
MPs from across Parliament last night urged Theresa May to change her mind as she prepared to launch military action against Bashar al-Assad without a Commons vote.
Cabinet sources said there was now a ‘broad view’ in Downing Street that the Prime Minister does not need to seek the approval of MPs before launching strikes.
Some senior Tories yesterday joined Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP in demanding MPs are given a say, as they warned of the dangers of how the crisis could escalate.Since the Iraq War a precedent has been set that all military action abroad is first approved by Parliament, but sources last night told the Mail that no preparations have been made for MPs to return to Westminster before Monday when their Easter recess ends.
When asked if she would recall parliament yesterday, Mrs May declined to answer the question directly. Tory MP Sir David Amess said the Prime Minister needed to come to the Commons before retaliating against Assad following the chemical weapons attack in Syria.
He said: ‘I think we have to look at this situation very, very carefully because since I have been in Parliament we have been involved in conflicts in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Neither with terribly good outcomes.’
Theresa May has given her strongest signal yet that Britain would support President Donald Trump in military action against the Syrian regime as the two leaders resolved “not to allow the use of chemical weapons to continue”.
The Prime Minister spoke to both Mr Trump and the French President Emmanuel Macron by telephone during which all three agreed that President Bashar al-Assad had shown “total disregard” for international laws against the use of such weapons.
A Trump official upped the diplomatic tension by describing the chemical attack on Douma, Syria, as “genocide” and saying a military response was “appropriate”.
Related: Theresa May condemns ‘barbaric attack’ in Syria ( ITN News )
Mr Macron said the three countries would decide “within days” how to respond and discussed the possibility of hitting Syria’s “chemical capacities”. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said: “All options are on the table.”
It came as Russia used its veto power at the UN Security Council on Tuesday evening against a US resolution to create a new expert body to determine responsibility for Syria chemical weapons attacks, a move expected to increase the likelihood of US military intervention.
Whitehall sources suggest Mrs May would prefer to have the backing of Parliament in any decision to join a military response against Syria, but with both Mr Trump and Mr Macron eager to strike swiftly, that option is unlikely to be open to the Prime Minister.
The Telegraph has learnt that no plans have been put in place to recall MPs before Monday, when they will return after the Easter recess, suggesting MrsMay has resigned herself to taking the decision in conjunction with her Cabinet, rather than seeking the support of the Commons.
Downing Street issued a more cautious statement that the White House, in which Number 10 said that the chemical attack “if confirmed” would represent fresh evidence of Assad’s “appalling cruelty”.
The White House’s version of the conversation between Mrs May and MrTrump contained no such caveat, saying simply that “both leaders condemned Syrian President Assad’s vicious disregard for human life”.
Decisions on deploying the Armed Forces are covered by Royal prerogative, meaning there is no legal requirement for Mrs May to seek the permission of Parliament to take part in air strikes.
A precedent has in recent years been established for giving Parliament a vote on military interventions, but Mrs May is aware that David Cameron suffered an embarrassing defeat over military action in Syria in 2013.
Boris Johnson is among those who believe there is no need for a vote, while Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said there was a “clear case for action”.
Tony Blair, the former prime minister who set a precedent in 2003 for Parliament having a vote on military action abroad, said there was no need for a vote in the case of air strikes, rather than using ground forces.
But Julian Lewis, the Conservative chair of the Commons defence select committee, said that while Governments might have to act first and seek MPs’ approval later if the UK was under attack, a strike on another country was another matter, and Tory MP Bob Seely said the “right to debate should rest with Parliament”.
More than 40 MPs from opposition parties signed a motion calling for a vote on military action and Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, called for a political solution in Syria rather than “megaphone diplomacy across the floor of the UN Security Council” between the US and Russia.
Mrs May chaired a meeting of the National Security Council, which includes the heads of Britain’s intelligence agencies, the Armed Forces and senior ministers, but Downing Street refused to discuss what it had decided.
A team of inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is on its way to Douma and Mrs May said: “Obviously we are working urgently with our allies and partners to assess what has happened on the ground.
“If this is the responsibility of Assad’s regime in Syria then it’s yet another example of the brutality and brazen disregard for their people that they show.”
However, President Trump appears to be in no mood to wait for the inspectors’ findings, having said on Monday that he would decide within 48 hours how to respond. On Tuesday he cancelled a planned trip to Latin America in order to prepare to US response to the chemical attack.
Mr Trump is under growing pressure from Republican senators to follow through his tough rhetoric over the Syrian chemical attack with a military response.
Lindsay Graham, the Republican senator for South Carolina who regularly plays golf with Mr Trump, said that Mr Assad himself should be a target in any air strikes.
Mr Graham said that if Mr Trump failed to launch an attack it would be “the biggest mistake of his presidency”, leaving America looking “unreliable in the eyes of our allies”.
Kay Hutchison, US Permanent Representative to Nato, said: “We would call on Russia to do something. They are propping up Assad. They are helping him. They should do something to stop this kind of genocide. I think a military response is appropriate.”
Asked how Assad’s use of chemical weapons could be stopped, she said: “I think we do everything we can with the tools we have. I believe a military response, taking out perhaps some of the places where perhaps these missions are taking place, with the bases from which they are flying to drop chemical weapons, I think that is an appropriate response.
“The President is talking to other allies, I hope they will come to an agreement on a concerted effort.”
A Downing Street spokesman said of Mrs May’s calls with President Trump and President Macron: “They agreed that reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria were utterly reprehensible and if confirmed, represented further evidence of the Assad regime’s appalling cruelty against its own people and total disregard for its legal obligations not to use these weapons.
“They agreed that the international community needed to respond to uphold the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.
“They agreed they would continue working closely together and with international partners to ensure that those responsible were held to account.”
Mr Johnson criticised Russia after it vetoed an US-drafted resolution at the United Nations to create a new body to determine responsibility for the suspected Syria chemical weapons attack.
The Foreign Secretary described the move as “hugely disappointing” and accused Russia of “holding the Syrian people to political ransom”. (The Telegraph)
Trump says US will ‘forcefully’ respond to Syria ‘chemical weapons attack’
Video provided by Press Association
The US and Russia moved closer to a direct confrontation over Syria on Monday night as Donald Trump said a decision was imminent on a response to a chemical weapon attack on Saturday, and Moscow warned that any US military action would have “grave repercussions”.
Trump met US generals in the White House cabinet room on Monday evening to discuss how to react to the poison gas attack in Douma, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, reported to have killed more than 40 people and seriously affected hundreds.
The US and its allies have accused the regime of Bashar al-Assad of carrying out the attack, and Trump himself said Vladimir Putin, by backing Assad, bore some responsibility.
Russia has claimed there was no chemical weapons attack on Douma or, if there was, it was staged by Western-backed rebels.
“So we’re going to make a decision tonight, or very shortly thereafter,” Trump told reporters as he entered the meeting, accompanied by his new national security advisor, John Bolton. “And you’ll be hearing the decision. But we can’t let atrocities like we all witnessed … we can’t let that happen.”
“We have a lot of options, militarily,” the president added. “And we’ll be letting you know pretty soon. Probably after the fact.”
The meeting ended after less than an hour. Asked how his first day was going, Bolton replied: “What could go wrong?”
Before meeting the generals, Trump called Macron, who has also threatened military action if the Syrian regime is proven to have carried out a chemical weapons attack. The White House issued a statement saying the US and French presidents would “continue their coordination on responding to Syria’s atrocious use of chemical weapons on April 7”.
The sharply escalating tensions between the US and Russia boiled over at an angry session of the UN security council session on Monday.
The French UN envoy, Francois Delattre, said the symptoms of the victims suggested that they had been exposed to “a powerful neurotoxic agent, combined with chlorine to enhance its lethal effect”. Delattre added that only Syrian forces had the means and the motive to make such weapons and carry out such an attempt.
The US ambassador, Nikki Haley, lashed out at Moscow for its unstinting backing of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader. She referred to Moscow as the “Russian regime, whose hands are all covered in the blood of Syrian children”.
Haley’s Russian counterpart, Vassily Nebenzia, complained that “Russia is being unpardonably threatened” and claimed both that Russian investigators had found no evidence of a chemical attack in Douma, and that it had been staged by rebels, trained in carrying out false-flag provocations by US special forces.
“There was no chemical weapons attack,” Nebenzia told the council. “Through the relevant channels we already conveyed to the US that armed forces under mendacious pretext against Syria – where, at the request of the legitimate government of a country, Russian troops have been deployed – could lead to grave repercussions.”
A few hours earlier, Donald Trump said his administration was on the brink of deciding its response to the Douma attack. “We are meeting with our military and everybody else, and we’ll be making some major decisions over the next 24 to 48 hours,” he said at a cabinet meeting. “We are very concerned when a thing like that can happen. This is about humanity … and it can’t be allowed to happen.”
Pressed by reporters, Trump went further, saying: “We’ll be making that decision very quickly, probably by the end of today. But we cannot allow atrocities like that. Cannot allow it.”
Trump ordered airstrikes against a Syrian airbase after a previous chemical weapons attack, in April last year. The latest use of poison gasprovoked from Trump unprecedented direct criticism of Putin, something he had previously been at pains to avoid.
Asked if Putin bore responsibility for the Douma attack, Trump replied: “Yeah, he may. And if he does, it’s going to be very tough.
“Everybody is going to pay a price,” Trump said. “He will. Everybody will.”
Addressing the council chamber by video, the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, expressed concern that the Syrian conflict was becoming a threat to peace and security far beyond the region, pointing to the major powers being drawn into the war, and pointing to airstrikes on a Syrian regime airbase east of Homs on Sunday, which are widely believed to have been carried out by Israel and aimed principally at Iranian forces there. Tehran has reported that four of its advisers were killed in the airstrikes.
At the security council session, the US proposed a resolution demanding a return to an independent UN mechanism to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria, along the lines of an earlier investigative panel that Russia dissolved by vetoing its continued work in November.
“We have reached the moment when the world must see justice done,” Haley said. “History will record this as the moment when the UN security council either discharged its duty or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria. Either way, the United States will respond.”
In his address, Nebenzia suggested a visit to Douma by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) might be possible under Syrian and Russian military protection. The UK envoy to the UN, Karen Pierce, said the Russian proposal was “an offer worth pursuing” but she added that OPCW inspectors would have to have complete freedom of action and of access. (The Guardian)
Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.
The Krasnodar, a Russian attack submarine, left the coast of Libya in late May, headed east across the Mediterranean, then slipped undersea, quiet as a mouse. Next, it fired a volley of cruise missiles into Syria.
In the days that followed, the diesel-electric sub was pursued by the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, its five accompanying warships, MH-60R Seahawk helicopters and P-8 Poseidon anti-sub jets flying out of Italy.nodarThe U.S. and its allies had set out to track the Krasnodar as it moved to its new home in the Black Sea. The missile attack upended what had been a routine voyage, and prompted one of the first U.S. efforts to track a Russian sub during combat since the Cold War. Over the next weeks, the sub at points eluded detection in a sea hunt that tested the readiness of Western allies for a new era in naval warfare.
An unexpected resurgence in Russian submarine development, which deteriorated after the breakup of the Soviet Union, has reignited the undersea rivalry of the Cold War, when both sides deployed fleets of attack subs to hunt for rival submarines carrying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.
When underwater, enemy submarines are heard, not seen—and Russia brags that its new subs are the world’s quietest. The Krasnodar is wrapped in echo-absorbing skin to evade sonar; its propulsion system is mounted on noise-cutting dampers; rechargeable batteries drive it in near silence, leaving little for sub hunters to hear. “The Black Hole,” U.S. allies call it.
“As you improve the quieting of the submarines and their capability to move that much more stealthily through the water, it makes it that much harder to find,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Benjamin Nicholson, of Destroyer Squadron 22, who oversees surface and undersea warfare for the USS Bush strike group. “Not impossible, just more difficult.”
Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has given Russian President Vladimir Putin opportunities to test the cruise missiles aboard the new subs over the past two years, raising the stakes for the U.S. and its allies.
Top officials of North Atlantic Treaty Organization say the alliance must consider new investments in submarines and sub-hunting technology. The findings of a study this year from the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, grabbed the attention of senior NATO leaders: The U.S. and its allies weren’t prepared for an undersea conflict with Russia.
“We still remain dominant in the undersea world,” said Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Europe. “But we too must focus on modernizing the equipment we have and improving our skills.”
The U.S. Navy, which for years trained its sub-hunting teams through naval exercises and computer simulations, is again tracking Russian submarines in the Baltic, North Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. The challenge extends beyond Russia, which has sold subs to China, India and elsewhere.
“Nothing gets you better than doing it for real,” Capt. Nicholson said. “Steel sharpens steel.”
This account was based on interviews with officials from the U.S. Navy, NATO and crew members aboard the USS Bush, as well as Russian government announcements.
On May 6, after a last volley of cruise-missile tests conducted in the Baltic Sea, the Russian defense ministry said the Krasnodar was to join the country’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, Ukraine, via the Mediterranean. American allies already knew.
The sub, traveling on the ocean surface, was accompanied by a Russian tug boat. The U.S. and its NATO allies had hashed out a plan to follow the sub using maritime-patrol aircraft and surface ships.
“Even if you are tracking a transiting submarine that is not trying to hide, it takes coordination and effort,” said Capt. Bill Ellis, the commodore of Task Force 67, the U.S. sub-hunting planes in Europe.
NATO’s maritime force, led by a Dutch frigate, took first lookout duty. The Dutch sent NH-90 helicopter to snap a photo of the sub in the North Sea and posted it on Twitter. Surveillance of the Krasnodar then turned to the U.K.’s HMS Somerset on May 5, about the time the sub entered the North Sea by the Dutch coast.
The Krasnodar passed through the English Channel and continued past France and Spain, where a Spanish patrol boat took up the escort.
When the submarine reached Gibraltar, a U.S. Navy cruiser monitored the sub’s entry into the Mediterranean Sea on May 13. U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft, flying out of the Sigonella air base in Italy, also took up watch.
“We want to see where it goes,” Capt. Ellis said. “At any time a submarine could submerge and start to be hidden, so we want to follow.”
As the Krasnodar headed east, Russia’s defense ministry notified international airlines that it would be conducting drills off the coast of Libya. U.S. officials and defense analysts said the drills were part of a sales pitch to potential buyers, including Egypt, that would show off the submarine’s cruise missiles.
A more dramatic and unexpected display came a few days later. Russia’s defense ministry announced on May 29 that the sub’s cruise missiles had struck Islamic State targets and killed militants near Syria’s city of Palmyra. Suddenly, a routine tracking mission turned much more serious.
With both U.S. and Russian forces crossing paths in Syria, each pursuing distinct and sometimes conflicting agendas, the battlefield has grown more complicated. The Russians have given only limited warnings of their strikes to the U.S.-led coalition. That has required the U.S. and its allies to keep a close eye on Russian submarines hiding in the Mediterranean.
Nuclear-armed submarines are the cornerstone of the U.S. and U.K.’s strategic deterrent. For the U.S., these subs make up one leg of the so-called triad of nuclear forces—serving, essentially, as a retaliatory strike force.
Smaller attack submarines like the Krasnodar, armed with conventional torpedoes and cruise missiles, can pose a more tangible threat to U.S. aircraft carriers, which are the Navy’s most important weapon to project American power around the world.
On June 5, the USS Bush, a $6.2 billion carrier, and its warships, passed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. Its mission was to support U.S.-backed Syrian rebels and attack Islamic State positions.
Amid rising tensions between U.S. and Russian military forces in Syria—and with the Krasnodar trying to evade Western surveillance—the job of the USS Bush now also included tracking the sub and learning more about its so-called pattern of life: its tactics, techniques and battle rhythms.
By then, the Krasnodar had slipped beneath the waves and begun the game of hide and seek. Sailors and aviators with little real-world experience in anti-sub warfare began a crash course.
“It is an indication of the changing dynamic in the world that a skill set, maybe we didn’t spend a lot of time on in the last 15 years, is coming back,” said Capt. Jim McCall, commander of the air wing on the USS Bush.
The Krasnodar was designed to operate close to shore, invisible to opposing forces and able to strike missile targets 1,600 miles away. The coastal waters of the Mediterranean south of Cyprus, which put it within range of Syria, provided plenty of places to hide.
Finding a submarine that is operating on batteries underwater is very difficult. How many hours or days the Krasnodar’s batteries can operate before recharging is a secret neither Russian officials who know, nor the U.S. Navy, which may have a good idea, will talk about.
Western naval analysts say the sub most likely must use its diesel engines to recharge batteries every couple of days. When the diesel engines are running, they say, the sub can be more easily found.
The Krasnodar wasn’t likely to challenge an aircraft carrier. But the U.S. Navy was taking no chances. “One small submarine has the ability to threaten a large capital asset like an aircraft carrier,” said Capt. Ellis, the P-8 task force commander.
For many days in June, a squadron of MH-60R Seahawk helicopters lifted off from the deck of the USS Bush and its accompanying destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. Some used radar for signs of the Krasnodar on the water’s surface. Others lowered sonar beacons to varying ocean depths.
“When you find what you are looking for in an ocean of nothingness, then it feels really good,” said Naval Aircrewman First Class Scott Fetterhoff, who manned radar gear aboard a Seahawk helicopter. U.S. Navy radar, used on ships, helicopters and jets, can detect objects as small as a periscope.
Cmdr. Edward Fossati, the commander of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70, the Bush Strike Group’s sub-hunting helicopters, said Russian subs have gotten quieter but the cat-and-mouse game remained about even with advances in tracking: “We are much better at it than we were 20 years ago.”
That includes narrowing down where to look. The USS Bush had on board three Navy anti-sub oceanographers to help track the vessel.
Submarines look for ways to hamper sonar equipment by exploiting undersea terrain and subsurface ocean currents and eddies. Differences in water temperature and density can bend sound waves, making it difficult to pinpoint the source of a sound.
U.S. Navy computer systems analyze the ocean environment and make predictions about how sound will travel in a given patch of ocean. Using the sub’s last known position and expected destination, the oceanographers use the data to mark potential hiding places and determine where search teams should focus.
“It is a constant foot race,” said U.S. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer. “And, as I say, ‘Game on.’ ”
On June 18, a Syrian Sukhoi jet fighter threatened U.S.-backed rebels advancing toward Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital. Fighter planes from the USS Bush warned away the Sukhoi. When the Syrian pilot ignored flares and radio calls, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel shot down the Sukhoi. Moscow threatened to shoot down U.S. planes in western Syria.
Five days later, the submerged Krasnodar fired another salvo of cruise missiles. Russian officials said they hit an Islamic State ammunition depot.
“They were flexing their muscles,” said Rear Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, commander of the USS Bush strike group. U.S. officials wouldn’t say how long the Krasnodar remained hidden underwater, but Adm. Whitesell said the launch was watched by a French frigate and U.S. Navy aerial surveillance.
Flight-tracking companies don’t log military flights, but amateur plane watchers examining transponder data often catch clues. On July 2, with the USS Bush in a five-day port call in Haifa, Israel, a P-8 flew toward the Syrian coast, apparently searching the seas, according to amateur plane watchers.
On July 20, the flight-tracking data showed two P-8s flying south of Cyprus, close to six hours apart. The first plane was observed on flight-tracking sites making tight circles over the Mediterranean south of Cyprus, a flight pattern typical of a plane homing in on a submarine.
Capt. Ellis wouldn’t say if his P-8s had the Krasnodar in their sights.
After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Moscow curtailed undersea operations. In 2000, the nuclear-powered Kursk sank with 118 sailors, a naval tragedy emblematic of the decline.
Russia’s military modernization program, announced in 2011, poured new money into its submarine program, allowing Russian engineers to begin moving ahead with newer, quieter designs.
When the Krasnodar was completed in 2015 at the St. Petersburg’s Admiralty Shipyards, Russia boasted it could elude the West’s most advanced sonar. NATO planners worry subs could cut trans-Atlantic communication cables or keep U.S. ships from reaching Europe in a crisis, as Nazi subs did in World War II.
“If you want to transport a lot of stuff, you have to do that by ship,” said NATO’s submarine commander, Rear Adm. Andrew Lennon. “And those ships are vulnerable to undersea threats.”
NATO’s military leaders have recommended reviving the Cold War-era Atlantic Command, dedicated to protecting sea lanes, alliance officials said, a proposal that defense ministers are expected to approve.
U.S. officials have said they believe that Moscow’s support of the Assad regime is partly for access to a strategic port in the eastern Mediterranean to resupply and rearm warships. The Syrian port of Tartus is expanding to include a Russian submarine maintenance facility, according to Turkish officials.
On July 30, the Krasnodar surfaced in the Mediterranean. The Krasnodar’s port call in Tartus, coinciding with Navy Day, a celebration of Russia’s maritime forces, marked the end of its hide-and-seek maneuvers with the USS Bush. On Aug. 9, the Krasnodar arrived in Crimea to join the Black Sea fleet, Russian officials said. Its mission appeared a success: Moscow showed it could continue unfettered strikes in Syria with its growing undersea fleet.
By then, the Bush carrier strike group had left the eastern Mediterranean for the coast of Scotland, where the U.S. and British navies, along with a Norwegian frigate, were conducting a joint exercise called Saxon Warrior. U.K. sailors boarded the USS Bush and heard lessons from the Krasnodar hunt.
Days before the exercise, Capt. Nicholson predicted another Russian sub would be nearby. “We are in the Russians’ backyard,” he said. “Prudence dictates we are ready for whatever or whomever might come out to watch.
A senior U.S. official later said a Russian sub had indeed shadowed the exercise, which ended Aug. 10. NATO officials wouldn’t comment.
A new nuclear-powered class of Russian submarines even more sophisticated than the Krasnodar, called the Yasen, are designed to destroy aircraft carriers. They are built with low-magnetic steel to better evade detection and can dive deeper than larger U.S. submarines
At the time of the U.S.-U.K. exercise, Russia said its only Yasen sub officially in operation, the Severodvinsk, was in the Barents Sea. But a second, more advanced Yasen sub, the Kazan, was undergoing sea trials.
Russian, NATO, and U.S. officials won’t say whether the Kazan was shadowing the U.S.-U.K. exercise in the North Atlantic.
On Aug. 17, a U.S. P-8, flying from a Norwegian base, conducted three days of operations, according to amateur aviation trackers. Canadian air force patrol planes also flew out of Scotland. On Aug. 26, French planes joined.
Allied officials said some of the flights were searching the waters for a Russian submarine. The USS Bush, however, was out of the hunt. On Aug. 21, she returned to port in Norfolk, Va. (Wall Stree Journal)