The leaders of the EU institutions remained silent on Wednesday (11 April) while the world got dangerously close to a global conflict over Syria, with two member states, Britain and France, getting ready to go to war.
US President Donald Trump warned Russia on Wednesday of imminent military action in Syria over a suspected poison gas attack, declaring that missiles “will be coming” and lambasting Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The EU’s diplomacy chief, Federica Mogherini, is in intense diplomatic contacts and the Syria situation will be discussed in-depth at the Foreign Affairs Council next Monday (16 April), according to her spokesperson.
Syria is Russia’s biggest ally in the Middle East and attacks on Syrian military targets may also be considered as attacks against Russia.
The United States and its allies are considering whether to hit Syria over a suspected poison gas attack that medical relief organizations say killed dozens of people in the rebel-held town of Douma near Damascus on Saturday.
Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any US missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted, a step that could trigger a major escalation in the Syrian war.
Trump responded with a tweet which sounded as readiness to start war against Syria – and Russia.
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
“You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” Trump tweeted, referring to Moscow’s alliance with Assad.
The White House pushed back against suggestions that Trump had broadcast his plans for military strikes via Twitter, saying he had not laid out a timetable for action, that all options were still on the table and he was assessing how to respond.
In response, Russia’s foreign ministry said: “Smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not towards the lawful government”.
The Kremlin said it did not engage in “Twitter diplomacy”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying that care should be taken not to aggravate the situation in Syria.
“We do not participate in Twitter diplomacy,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax. “We support serious approaches. We continue to believe that it is important not to take steps that could harm an already fragile situation.”
'We do not participate in Twitter-diplomacy' – Peskov on Trump tweet pic.twitter.com/opnE1TA7m2
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) April 12, 2018
Damascus and Moscow have denied any responsibility and say the suspected gas poison attack incident in Syria is bogus.
The United States invented the reports of a chemical attack in Syria, Peskov was quoted as saying on Wednesday by TASS news agency, adding that this could not be used as a justification for US strikes on Syrian government targets.
Civil airplanes have, in the meantime, been advised to avoid Syria’s airspace.
Airspace Over Syria Cleared for Attack https://t.co/6m8aDB8rb8
— Valdis Gailitis (@WallyG1) April 12, 2018
Russia says tracking US naval movements
The Russian military said on Wednesday it was closely watching the situation around Syria and was aware of the movements of a US naval strike force headed for the Gulf.
The US Navy said on Tuesday that the strike group, headed by the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, would set sail for the Middle East and Europe on Wednesday.
In addition to USS Donald Cook, the U.S has now dispatched USN Carrier Strike Group 8 to the Mediterranean/#Syria:
– USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier
– Carrier Air Wing VII
– USS Hué City missile cruiser
– x6 Arleigh Burke-class Destroyers
– x1 Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate pic.twitter.com/5C0tyDlTkO
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) April 10, 2018
The Russian military said the US strike force was due to arrive in the Middle East at the start of May.
“We are attentively tracking the situation unfolding around Syria and in the whole region,” the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement.
— The Moscow Times (@MoscowTimes) April 12, 2018
May summons ministers for Syria meeting
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May has called her ministers to a Thursday cabinet meeting on Syria, which media reports said was likely to lead to London joining in a military response to a suspected chemical attack in Syria.
— Daily Star (@Daily_Star) April 12, 2018
The BBC earlier on Wednesday said May was ready to give the go-ahead for Britain to take part in action led by the United States without seeking prior approval from parliament.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper said May had ordered British submarines to move within missile range of Syria in readiness for strikes against the Syrian military that could begin as early as Thursday night.
Sky News reported that May was expected to ask her ministers on Thursday to approve Britain’s involvement in military action against Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure.
May is not required by law to seek parliamentary approval for offensive military action, but recent interventions in Libya and Iraq have been put to a vote.
May’s predecessor David Cameron tried and failed to get support from lawmakers to join a military strike in Syria in 2013 over suspected chemical weapons use.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, speaking earlier on Wednesday, said parliament should be given a say on any military action May wants to take.
May, also speaking earlier on Wednesday, said all the indications were that the Syrian authorities were responsible for the chemical attack in the town of Douma and that such shocking assaults could not go unchallenged.
Macron wants joint response
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that France would consult with the US and UK on whether to carry out military strikes on the Syrian regime’s suspected chemical facilities.
Macron’s remarks came after talks with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Macron said France and its allies would decide “in the coming days” on what response to take. “Our decision will not target allies of the regime or attack anyone but rather attack the regime’s chemical capabilities,” he added, insisting he did “not want an escalation.”
However, Macron said he wanted to issue a “strong and joint response” to Saturday’s suspected chemical weapons attack on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma.
The use of chemical weapons in Syria, the French president reiterated, was a “red line” for France.
Stocks fall, oil up
Stocks across the globe fell on Wednesday as US President Donald Trump taunted Russia for supporting Syria’s president after a suspected chemical attack on rebels, while oil hit its highest since 2014 after Saudi Arabia said it intercepted a missile over Riyadh.
The animosity kept investors on edge and weighed on risky assets like stocks, while the safe-haven yen rose against the US dollar.