Global reaction to the April 14 missile strikes on Syria ranged from strong support to labelling the action a “crime.”
Russia called an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to condemn the attacks as “aggression”, but this was defeated, with only three members of the 15-seat council voting for it. President Vladimir Putin said: “Russia condemns the attack on Syria, where Russian servicemen are helping the legitimate government in the fight against terrorism, in the most serious terms.” (Financial Times)
Moscow previously claimed that many of the 100 missiles failed to hit their targets or were intercepted by Russian air defences. But the U.S. said it had evaded air defences “to strike every target at the heart of Syria’s chemical weapons program.”
Pentagon spokesman Lieut-Gen Kenneth Mackenzie said the strikes were “precise and effective” (NPR). In the American media, of 16 columns written just before the bombing, 10 openly supported the attack while two from the Washington Post opposed the strikes.
These contradicting accounts can be explained by Putin’s desire to present his fellow Russians with an image of Russia as a major actor on the international stage and a crucial power broker in the Syrian conflict, according to Andrea Taylor, an expert on Syria at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, a think tank.
“If we were to ever get to a resolution in Syria, it would have to be reached in a way that Russia … can act like they played an important role in getting to that point,” she told WikiTribune. “Because their reputation and that pride, I think, is very important to Putin himself, largely because of domestic politics and needing to maintain a positive image for his people.”
The fundamental question, according to senior research fellow Ewan Lawson at security think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), is: was the purpose of these strikes to protect civilians in Syria or to punish the Assad regime in order to gain political capital back home?
“What was the strategy here?” he told WikiTribune. “Evidence would suggest these strikes will not deter the regime from using chemical weapons.”
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According to the Kremlin, Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, agreed that the Western strikes had damaged the chances of achieving a political resolution in the seven-year Syria conflict.
“Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions committed in violation of the UN Charter continue, then it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations,” the Kremlin statement said.
The European Union supported the action, in which two of its members took part. EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherina, said the union “is supportive of all efforts aimed at the prevention of the use of chemical weapons.” The EU has condemned “the repeated use of chemical weapons” by the Syrian regime.
The German Federal President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said in an interview for “Bild am Sonntag” (short preview) that the air strikes were meant as a retaliation for repeated chemical attacks which violated international law. In considering a path to peace for Syria, however, it is necessary “to think beyond today and beyond the next air strike.” Appealing to the greater responsibility of the major powers, Steinmeier called on the U.S. and Russia to make another attempt at a Syrian peace initiative. “Nothing will be achieved without the neighbors in the region, but nothing will begin without the United States and Russia.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, described the military action as a crime.
“I clearly declare that the president of the United States, the president of France and the British prime minister are criminals,” Khamenei said, quoted on his Twitter account.
Long-time ally Australia did not take part in the action but its prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, voiced support for any action against the use of chemical weapons. Turnbull said the use of Storm Shadow cruise missiles (CNN) would send a strong message to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader.
“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Assad tweeted after the strikes.
See earlier WikiTribune coverage of Syria