Russia Had Advance Notice About The Syria Strike

by Lani Seelinger
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It seems like everywhere you turn these days, there's something else raising questions about the Trump administration's relationship with Russia. This is now true for Trump's missile strike on Syria, as a Pentagon official has revealed that Russia was notified about the Syria strike hours before it happened. Whether or not Congress was notified prior to this point is unknown. But if one thing is clear, it's that some Congress members are not happy with the fact that Trump didn't seek their permission to launch the missiles.

There are, at least, sound military reasons for this — although given Russia's reaction, they don't seem to have had their intended effect. The strike was targeted at a Syrian airfield that could also have housed Russian and Syrian personnel, so the Pentagon sent advance notice to the Kremlin to give Russian forces a chance to clear the area. "Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line," said Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis in an official statement. "U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield."

The attack was designed to maximize the damage to the equipment at the airfield, while minimizing the risk to people, either Syrian or Russian. The Trump administration maintains that this is the airfield from where the most recent chemical attack was launched, so destroying the planes and support structure at the airfield was meant to limit future chemical attacks. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the administration did not ask for the Kremlin's approval on the attack, though.

Despite the tip-off, Russia has come out very strongly against the U.S. missile strike in Syria. Russian officials have gone on the record saying that the strike will damage U.S.-Russia relations and that they are a "violation of international law," but they haven't stopped at mere words. The United States and Russia had a deal to stop mid-air collisions from happening between American and Russian planes in Syrian airspace, and Russia has suspended that deal in response to the strike. This could end up being a dangerous repercussion of the strike, as Syrian airspace is very crowded and clear communication between Russian and American forces was an important safety measure.

While it may be surprising that the Trump administration has done something so clearly in opposition to Russia, Russia's reaction is less surprising. The country has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's most prominent backer throughout the entirety of the Syrian conflict so far, casting repeated vetoes to protect Assad from U.N. Security Council action. Russia has said that it will demand an immediate Security Council meeting to address the American missile strike. Apparently, the American attempt to follow deconfliction policies between the two nations and inform Russia in advance of the strike was not enough to prevent Russia's anger after the fact.

So far, Russia and Iran are the governments coming out most strongly against Trump's action, and the process of placating Russia is unlikely to be an easy one. Despite the controversial move of giving Russia advance warning, Trump may have just started a consequential fight with the country that, so far, has seemed to evade all of his criticism.