The Syrian crisis was one of the headlines in the Group of Seven (G7) major industrialized nations meeting, as the Foreign ministers were looking to put pressure on Russia to break its ties with Bashar al-Assad.
In a sharp escalation of the U.S. military role in Syria, two U.S. warships fired dozens of cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean Sea at the airbase controlled by Assad regime forces in response to the deadly poison gas attack in a rebel-held area on Tuesday, U.S. officials said.
Trump ordered the strikes just a day after he pointed the finger at Assad for this week’s chemical attack.
“Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.”
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” Trump said on Thursday.
Russia condemned the strikes, saying Washington’s action would “inflict major damage on US-Russia ties”, according to Russian news agencies.
Slamming Russia for backing Assad
Foreign ministers of the G7 nations will seek to pressure Russia to distance itself from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged Putin to abandon Assad, amid evidence that the Syrian president had used chemical weapons.
“Vladimir Putin is “toxifying the image of Russia” by backing Bashar al-Assad and the G7 must consider fresh sanctions against Russia and Syria in response to last week’s chemical attack on civilians,” Boris Johnson has said.
“I think the Russians need a way out and a way forward,” Johnson told the BBC in Italy. “If you think about the position of Vladimir Putin now, he’s toxifying the reputation of Russia by his continuing association with a government which has flagrantly poisoned its own people”.
He called on Moscow to do “everything possible to bring about a political settlement in Syria and work with the rest of the international community to ensure that the shocking events of the last week are never repeated”.
The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, made the same linkage on the sidelines of the summit, saying “the fight against terrorism cannot be effective if we do not link it to resolving the Syrian situation”.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has strongly criticized Russia for failing to prevent Syria from carrying out the chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun last Wednesday that left 89 people dead.
But also said there had been “no change to our military posture” in Syria following a retaliatory US strike against a Syrian airbase, and that Washington’s “first priority” in Syria was to defeat so-called Islamic State (ISIS).
What are the options for pressuring Russia?
Johnson hopes to persuade the G7 to back proposals for new financial sanctions, including measures targeted at key military commanders from Russia and Syria.
Britain and the US believe the G7 should offer Russia a choice of continuing to back Assad and facing fresh penalties or working more closely with the west to combat the threat of Islamic militant groups across the Middle East and to rebuild Syria.
Johnson said “the meeting would be “discussing the possibility of further sanctions certainly on some of the Syrian military figures and indeed on some of the Russian military figures who have been involved in co-ordinating the Syrian military efforts”.
Russia is already under a raft of sanctions imposed by the US and EU in response to the annexation of Crimea and the crisis in eastern Ukraine. These target Russian individuals and businesses, and key sectors of the Russian economy closely connected to the ruling elite.
These would be the first sanctions against Russian figures over Syria if they were to be adopted, but it is far from clear they will be.
Tillerson will want to go from the G7 talks to Moscow on Tuesday to confront the Russians with a unified set of demands.
However, Reuters news agency quoted one senior European diplomat as saying that the US was “navigating aimlessly in the dark” in the search for a transfer of power in Syria.
The G7 groups Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, with the European Union also represented.
Will Russia stay silent?
Russia said that the latest US attack crossed all red lines threatening to meet any future “aggressions” with force.
“What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well,” the Russian alliance in Syria said.
In addition, Russian officials have launched a scathing attack on the UK over Johnson’s decision to cancel his trip to Moscow, threatening to bring relations to a new low.
The Russian foreign ministry and embassy in London belittled Britain’s role in the crisis.
The move showed a “fundamental misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of the events in Syria, Russia’s efforts to settle that crisis and the general objectives of diplomacy”, the Russian foreign ministry said. “The decision to call off Johnson’s visit to Moscow confirms once again doubts in the presence of added value in speaking to the UK, which does not have its own position on the majority of present-day issues, nor does it have real influence on the course of international affairs, as it remains ‘in the shadow’ of its strategic partners. We do not feel that we need dialogue with London any more than it does.”
Russia’s embassy in London, meanwhile, said it was “deplorable” that Johnson felt unable to meet his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. It tweeted mocking polls, including one that sought views on Donald Trump “as a wartime leader and Johnson as his lieutenant”.
Alexey Puhskov, a senator and former leading foreign policy official, said: “The cancellation of Johnson’s visit to Moscow is just proof that London has nothing to say to us except the standard accusations. An empty waste of time.”
On Sunday, Putin spoke on the phone with the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. According to a Kremlin summary of the call, the two leaders noted: “The aggressive US actions against a sovereign state, which violate international law, are unacceptable.”
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.