After President Trump’s Thursday evening airstrike on a Syrian airbase that launched gas attacks on civilians, the big question was how Russia would respond. Trump reportedly called Russia to let them know the airstrike was coming, a smart strategic move designed to avoid escalating a police action into a great powers conflict. But Russia has significant strategic interests in Syria – so much so that Russia has put boots on the ground and Russian weaponry in the field. Russia sees upholding Assad’s regime as a key element of knitting together a Middle Eastern sphere of influence ranging from Iran to Lebanon.
It’s therefore not a major surprise to see Russian dictator Vladimir Putin respond to America’s airstrike with aggressive diplomatic and military action designed to ram home the message that Russia is the dominant force in the region, not the United States. Russia has now said that its military will help strengthen Assad’s air defenses against the United States to prevent further airstrikes; Russia has condemned the missile strike as “an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.”