Putin sends warship to confront US vessels near Syria
RUSSIA has intensified its response to the US air strikes on Syria by sending a warship to confront American vessels in the Mediterranean.
Vladimir Putin sent his most advanced Black Sea frigate into the eastern Mediterranean late Friday, putting it into direct confrontation with U.S. Navy destroyers which launched an air strike against the Syrian military, reported Newsweek.
Putin's Admiral Grigorovich frigate reportedly left its port of Sevastopol, in Crimea, and headed toward the U.S. destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross - the same ships that began the offensive against Syrian targets.
The 4,000-ton Admiral Grigorovich is equipped with the potentially deadly Kalibr cruise missiles and last night was headed to dock in the Syrian port of Tartus, reported Russia's official TASS News Agency.
The Admiral Grigorovich frigate was most recently involved in joint naval drills conducted between Russia and Turkey in the Black Sea, in a rare show of co-operation between the two countries.
The warship could potentially stay off the Syrian coast for up to a month, T he New York Post reported.
Adding to the tension between the two superpowers, Moscow has suspended communication on a specialised military hotline with the US designed to prevent conflict with the US following the air strikes in Syria.
The "deconfliction line" between Russia and the US has been described as an imperfect but essential tool in times of tension. It's a regular phone line staffed with a Russian-speaking colonel on the US side and is operated from a US base in Qatar speaking to Russian counterparts in Syria, AFP reports.
The line enabled the US to warn the Kremlin of impending air strikes on Thursday and was also used in February to stop a Russian strike on US jets it had mistaken for IS forces in a region of northern Syria.
On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said he hoped the line would remain open.
"The Department of Defense maintains the desire for dialogue through the flight safety channel," he said.
"It is to the benefit of all parties operating in the air over Syria to avoid accidents and miscalculation, and we hope the Russian Ministry of Defense comes to this conclusion as well."
Russia has reacted angrily at unilateral US action, calling it an act of "aggression" that will have "negative consequences".
The Foreign Ministry called the attack an "irresponsible approach" that was being used to justify a premeditated attack.
"Seeking to justify military action Washington has totally distorted what had happened in Idlib. The US could not have failed to grasp the fact that the Syrian government troops did not use chemical weapons there. Damascus simply does not have them, as confirmed a number of times by qualified experts.
"It is obvious that the cruise missile attack was prepared in advance. Any expert understands that Washington's decision on air strikes predates the Idlib events, which simply served as a pretext for a show of force."
'INEVITABLE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES'
RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin has issued a stern warning about the "inevitable negative consequences" that will follow US air strikes on Syria and said it's "regrettable" US relations have been damaged.
The President made the comments following a Security Council meeting in the wake of US missile strikes on the Shayrat air base.
"Washington's actions were again qualified as aggression and a violation of international law," he said.
"The meeting participants expressed deep concern about the inevitable negative consequences of this aggressive act on the common efforts to combat terrorism.
"The parties said it is highly regrettable that the bilateral Russian-US relations were damaged as a result of the strikes on the Syrian air base."
The US Commander-in-Chief President Trump ordered 59 Tomohawk missile strikes on the air base Thursday night in retaliation for a chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least 72 people including 11 children earlier this week.
Early footage released by the Russian military shows fires blazing and damage at the site. The Russian Defence Ministry said 23 of the missiles fired hit targets.
It said the effectiveness of the strike was "extremely low" and Moscow suspended a bilateral agreement with the US designed to prevent midair collisions over Syria.
Syrian state media said nine people were killed in the strike from villages near the base, including four children.
The US air strike has been commended by leaders from around the world including the UK, Australia, Germany, France, Turkey, Italy and New Zealand among others.
It marked a rapid policy shift for Mr Trump who previously warned against getting involved in Syria. Ahead of the launch, he said the shocking images of children struck with chemicals had changed his mind.
The move puts President Trump and President Putin in direct opposition to one another over the issue amid an FBI investigation over Russian influence on members of the Trump team during the election campaign.
Russia, who has backed Syrian President Assad's forces, condemned the strike and vowed to strengthen Syrian air defences.
US politicians have praised Trump for the attack, saying he must be "prepared to take other action" in Syria.
Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham have urged him to destroy Syrian air forces while he has the chance.
In an MSNBC interview on Friday morning, Mr McCain said the move "restores credibility" to the US and provides a chance to "reboot".
In a joint statement with Senator Graham following the attack he said the strikes showed a "credible first step" during a "pivotal moment."
"Unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action. For that, he deserves the support of the American people. Building on tonight's credible first step, we must finally learn the lessons of history and ensure that tactical success leads to strategic progress."
Senator Marco Rubio said it was a chance to create "alternatives" to the Assad regimen.
"We need to now move forward through a combination of diplomacy and, quite frankly, the support of groups on ground, particularly non-jihadist Sunni groups, to create alternatives to the Assad regimen," he said.