MOSCOW/DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Sunday that further Western attacks on Syria would bring chaos to world affairs, as Washington prepared to increase pressure on Russia with new economic sanctions.
In a telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, Putin and Rouhani agreed that the Western strikes had damaged the chances of achieving a political resolution in the seven-year Syria conflict, according to a Kremlin statement.
“Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions committed in violation of the U.N. Charter continue, then it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations,” the Kremlin statement said.
Meanwhile, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” program that the United States would announce new economic sanctions on Monday aimed at companies “that were dealing with equipment” related to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use.
On Saturday, the United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting what the Pentagon said were three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack in Douma on April 7.
The Western countries blame Assad for the Douma attack that killed dozens of people. The Syrian government and its ally Russia have denied involvement in any such attack.
The bombings marked the biggest intervention by Western countries against Assad and ally Russia but the United States, France and Britain have said the missile strikes were limited to Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and not aimed at toppling Assad or intervening in the civil war.
Responding to Haley’s remarks about the plans for new sanctions, Evgeny Serebrennikov, deputy head of the defence committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said Moscow was ready for the penalties, according to RIA news agency.
“They are hard for us, but will do more damage to the USA and Europe,” RIA quoted Serebrennikov as saying.
In Damascus, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, met inspectors from the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW for about three hours in the presence of Russian officers and a senior Syrian security official.
The inspectors were due to attempt to visit the Douma site. Moscow condemned the Western states for refusing to wait for OPCW’s findings before attacking.
Mekdad declined to comment to reporters waiting outside the hotel where the meeting took place.
Assad told a group of visiting Russian lawmakers that the Western missile strikes were an act of aggression, Russian news agencies reported.
Syria released video of the wreckage of a bombed-out research lab, but also of Assad arriving at work as usual, with the caption “morning of resilience” and there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Russian agencies quoted the lawmakers as saying that Assad was in a “good mood”, had praised the Soviet-era air defence systems Syria used to repel the Western attacks and had accepted an invitation to visit Russia at an unspecified time.
Trump had said “mission accomplished” on Twitter after the strikes, though U.S. Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie at the Pentagon acknowledged elements of the programme remain and he could not guarantee that Syria would be unable to conduct a chemical attack in the future.
Russian and Iranian military help over the past three years has allowed Assad to crush the rebel threat to topple him.
Though Israel has at times urged stronger U.S. involvement against Assad and his Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements in Syria, it voiced backing for Saturday’s air strikes by Western powers.
“Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision to act against the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet in broadcast remarks on Sunday, adding that he had commended his British counterpart, Theresa May, in a phone call.
The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Sunday that Western strikes on Syria had failed to achieve anything, including terrorizing the army, helping insurgents or serving the interests of Israel.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the U.S. military had kept its strikes limited because it knew a wider attack would spark retaliation from Damascus and its allies and inflame the region.
“The American (military) knows well that going towards a wide confrontation and a big operation against the regime and the army and the allied forces in Syria could not end, and any such confrontation would inflame the entire region,” Nasrallah said.
The heavily armed, Iranian-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, which fights alongside the Syrian army and is represented in the Beirut government, has been a vital ally of Damascus in Syria’s seven-year war.
DRAFT UN RESOLUTION
France, the United States and Britain circulated a draft resolution to U.N. Security Council late on Saturday that aims to establish a new independent inquiry into who is to responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The mechanism would look at cases where the OPCW fact-finding mission has established chemical weapons were used or likely used.
Diplomats said negotiations on the draft resolution would begin on Monday and it was not immediately clear when the United States, France and Britain wanted to put it to a vote.
Most Gulf stock markets rose on Sunday, supported by firm oil prices and relief that the weekend’s military attack on Syria was relatively limited in scope and there was no immediate retaliation.
Internationally, gold and oil are expected to extend gains on Monday, albeit modestly, when the markets open for the first time since the missile attack. Equities and bonds are unlikely to suffer big losses unless the West strikes again or Russia retaliates.
Gold has benefited in recent days as a safe-haven asset amid a U.S.-China trade dispute and the escalating conflict in Syria, which also pushed oil above $70 a barrel on concerns over a spike in Middle Eastern tensions.
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Tom Perry; Additional Susan Cornwell and Joel Schectman in Washington; Michelle Nichols in New York; Samia Nakhoul, Tom Perry, Laila Bassam, Ellen Francis and Angus McDowall in Beirut; Kinda Makieh in Barzeh; Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge in London; and Jean-Baptiste Vey, Geert de Clercq and Matthias Blamont in Paris; Andrey Ostroukh and Jack Stubbs in Moscow; Alison Bevege in Sydney; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Caren Bohan and Nick Zieminski