Russia has joined its Syrian and Iranian allies in criticizing the U.S. over President Donald Trump's decision to launch a barrage of missiles on a Syrian air force base Friday after Western nations accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of conducting a chemical weapons attack on civilians.
Russia, which has argued that the chemical incident was the result of a Syrian airstrike on a rebel chemical munitions facility, has expressed outrage over Trump's military response. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the U.S. attack "a significant blow to Russian-American relations," according to his official spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, The Guardian reported. Russian military personnel were reportedly present at the Shayrat air base when the U.S. Navy targeted it with 59 Tomahawk missiles. Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis had said Russia was warned in advance and that risks to troops were minimized, but Moscow has already scrapped an air defense deal—an action which could significantly increase the possibility of an incident occurring between the U.S. and Russian militaries in Syria.
The U.S. military has widely been accepted as the most powerful in the world. Its possession of advanced weapons systems, nearly 20 aircraft carriers and 200 military bases in 70 nations around the world have established it as the foremost military force on the planet. Its membership in NATO has also ensured that, should any nation attack the U.S., at least 27 nations would intervene on Washington's behalf. That said, the U.S. military has been far from invulnerable, even in relatively minor conflicts such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Any war with Russia would be devastating, even if the U.S. won.
Russia, which has been evaluated as the second-most powerful military in the world, has expanded its military influence around the world in recent years and built up its forces near strategic regions in Europe. Moscow has surpassed Washington in one particularly deadly category: nuclear weapons. Russia was believed to possess around 7,300 nuclear warheads, compared with the U.S.' estimated 6,970. A nuclear conflict would be catastrophic and is an unlikely strategic option for either nation. Trump and Putin have both pledged, however, to expand their nuclear forces.
While Trump has never explicitly endorsed Assad, he appeared to approve of Russia's support for the Syrian leader. Trump criticized his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, for wanting to target Assad and called the Syrian president a better alternative than the jihadist factions vying for control of the country. But Trump said his view of Syria had been changed by the chemical attack and Russia has indicated it does not plan to withdraw its support for the Syrian government, regardless of U.S. military action. Russia's defense ministry pledged Friday to take "a complex of measures" to protect the Syrian military and bolster its defenses.
The U.S. has referred to Friday's attack as a limited operation intended to send a message to Assad and Russia. If Trump chose to pursue further military action, however, he could run the risk of provoking a Russian response.
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