By attacking Syria, Trump defied Russia’s umbrella of protection over Assad. If Putin doesn’t respond somehow, even if it’s nothing more than making a show of parking a Russian ship near the two American destroyers, he risks looking weak in his first big test of wills with Trump. A strongman can’t make a habit of tolerating defiance, especially so soon after protests swept his country.
A Russian warship entered the eastern Mediterranean Friday and was heading toward the area where two U.S. Navy destroyers launched missile strikes into Syria, Fox News has learned.
The Russian frigate, Admiral Grigorovich RFS-494, crossed through the Bosphorus Strait “a few hours ago” from the Black Sea, according to a U.S. defense official…
The frigate was bound for the Syrian port of Tartus on a routine voyage, the Russian news agency TASS reported Friday, citing a military-diplomatic source.
“The Russian ship armed with cruise missiles Kalibr will visit the logistics base in Tartus, Syria,” the source said.
Maybe that’s true, or maybe it’s a pretext to sail past the American ships and signal that Russia’s patience with bombing Assad isn’t limitless. Meanwhile, back at the Pentagon:
Senior military officials say the U.S. is looking into whether Russia participated in Syria’s chemical weapons attack earlier this week.
The officials say Russia has failed to control the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.
They say a drone belonging either to Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site of the chemical weapons attack Tuesday after it happened. The drone returned late in the day as citizens were going to a nearby hospital for treatment. Shortly afterward, officials say the hospital was bombed.
The officials say they believe the hospital attack may have been an effort to cover up evidence of the attack.
Uh, what’s the next move if the investigation concludes that Russia did participate? The fact that Russians used to be stationed at that airfield makes it hard to believe they didn’t know chemical weapons were stashed there, but knowing about it and participating in the attack are two different things. I assume this is a leverage play by the White House aimed at Putin, i.e. “as long as you don’t retaliate against our airstrikes, we’ll make sure our investigation finds you innocent.” If Putin does retaliate somehow, then presumably America’s next move would be to pronounce Russia guilty of complicity in using WMD and try to organize new sanctions against them with Europe. But Putin likely won’t retaliate. As one Russian analyst told the Times, “There will be many screams on the Russian television with people condemning the strikes, but everybody understands that this is just a symbolic act meant for Trump to look different from Obama.”