On Monday, Donald Trump announced that the United States would strike a missile blow on Syria within 48 hours. Afterwards, he called Russia to get ready as US was going to use "nice, new and smart" missiles for the attack. On April 12, Donald Trump tweeted: "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS*. Where is our "Thank you America?"
Moscow preferred not to respond to Trump's bellicose tweets that he made on April 11. Putin's official spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Moscow was not a champion of Twitter diplomacy. "We are supporters of serious approaches. We still believe that it is vital not to take the steps that could harm the already fragile situation," he said. A representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, later said that smart missiles should fly in the direction of terrorists, rather than the legitimate government of Syria that also struggles against terrorism.
The USA intends to strike Syria in response to the alleged chemical attack in the city of Douma. However, the fact of the attack has not been confirmed. Why would Syrian President Bashar Assad want to gas civilians in a situation when the West had clearly warned him many times that he would thus cross the "red line." How could he conduct a chemical attack if the OPCW had officially confirmed that the Syrian government had destroyed all poisonous substances?
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has several scenarios for a military operation against Damascus, including a variant of joint actions with Great Britain and France. Donald Trump held negotiations with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, April 10. The UK was against a "hasty response" and asked for additional evidence of what had happened in Douma. On Wednesday, Pentagon chief James Mattis admitted that the department was still investigating the incident in Syria's Douma.
On Wednesday, officials with the Russian Defence Ministry did not make any harsh statements. Vladimir Poznikhir, First Deputy Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff, said that the USA should rather restore the ruined city of Raqqa and provide comprehensive assistance to the impoverished population. "We know that the US carrier group (Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and seven accompanying ships - ed.) headed towards the Persian Gulf, with an approximate arrival date in early May," the Russian general said, adding that the presence of the US Navy in the region was not unusual at all. He also criticised the World Health Organisation and talked about the achievements of the Russian Defence Ministry in stabilising the situation in Syria.
According to the Kommersant, such a position of the Russian side can be explained with secret negotiations that Russia is conducting with the United States on the line of General Staffs.
The head of the Duma Defence Committee, Vladimir Shamanov, told Rossiya 24 television channel that the Russian military maintain contacts with NATO through the mediation of Turkish counterparts. "Russia has decent weapons, and if the US wants to see how they work, they will see an effective rebuff," Shamanov also said.
The Russian Defence Ministry has already prepared a list of measures that the Russian military are ready to resort to should the conflict escalate further. Earlier, the head of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, said that Russia would open fire on both missiles and their carriers to stave off a threat to the Russian military in Syria. Gerasimov was obviously alluding to Russia's determination to destroy US warships and aircraft. This is the strongest statement that Russian officials have made so far.
To demonstrate its determination, the Russian Navy restricted the navigation zone near the coast of Syria, where the country plans to hold firing exercises. The zone will be closed for navigation on April 11-12, April 17-19 and April 25-26 from 10 to 18 Moscow time. Russia currently has about 15 warships and support vessels of the Black Sea Fleet in the region, including carriers of Caliber cruise missiles Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen frigates, as well as diesel-electric Varshavyanka submarines and nuclear submarines Shchuka-B). In addition, anti-submarine Il-38N aircraft capable of detecting enemy submarines were also deployed in Syria.
At the same time, Russia conducts the 24-hour monitoring of the situation in the Mediterranean region with the help of both ground-based systems and long-range radar A-50 aircraft tracking the movement of the USS Donald Cook. S-400 Triumf and Pantsir-C1 systems were put on alert to cover Khmeymim air base and the Russian Navy logistics center in Tartus. A source at the Russian Defence Ministry said that "none of these objects should get in the line of fire, otherwise consequences will be catastrophic." Russia also expects to receive coordinates of the targets which the US plans to strike similarly to the practice from April 7, 2017, before the USA attacked Shayrat air base.
*ISIS is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969