Russian’s foreign minister said Thursday the administration waited until minutes before striking Iranian-backed militias in Syria to alert Moscow, in what was the White House’s first military action since Joe Biden took office.
During a news conference with Russian media, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow was given four-to-five minutes’ warning ahead of the strikes but that wasn’t enough time to avoid risking a clash between Russian and American forces.
“Our military was warned four or five minutes in advance. Of course, this has no value even from the angle of deconfliction, as they say in relations between Russian and U.S. servicemen,” Lavrov said, adding the Biden administration’s warning was relayed as the strike was “already being delivered.”
U.S. military officials said that the attack killed several militants linked to Iran, indicating that the Biden administration will use military force against threats and violence linked to the Iranian regime, the Washington Post reported.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the strike killed 22 fighters when three trucks full of weapons were struck near a border crossing between Iraq and Syria.
Syria’s civil war, which began in 2011, has killed between 400,000 and 500,000 people, according to the most recent estimates. Russia began providing military and logistical support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, about a year after U.S. and allies began providing support for Syrian rebels battling the Assad regime.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed his country is the only one that has legally deployed foreign forces in Syria after having been invited by Assad.
John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters following the strike that U.S. forces struck facilities being utilized by Iraqi militias Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, among others, all of which are linked to Iran. Biden authorized the attack “in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats,” he said.
The Pentagon last struck targets in Syria in 2019. Then, the military struck two locations where Kataib Hezbollah fighters were located.
The Syrian foreign ministry lashed out at the Biden administration following the early Friday attack, saying it violated international law.
“This aggression is a negative indication of the new American administration’s policies, which are supposed to follow international legitimacy, not the law of the jungle that the previous administration had employed to deal with regional and international crises around the world,” the statement said.
In 2017, White House press secretary Jen Psaki also questioned the legality of Trump-ordered strikes in Syria. Biden, meanwhile, criticized Trump’s strikes in 2019.
Lavrov said Russia had obtained evidence that the Biden administration plans to remain active in Syria and wants to break up the country.
“It’s been alleged that they’ve decided never to leave Syria, up to the point of the country’s breakup,” he said, noting that Putin’s government wants to reach out to the Biden White House to resume talks regarding the ongoing conflict.
“It’s very important for us to resume contacts at the political-diplomatic level, and we hope the new administration will put together teams for this purpose soon enough,” he added.
Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian Duma’s foreign affairs committee, said the Biden administration has no interest in bringing peace to Syria.
“Obviously, the priorities of the new U.S. administration do not include peace on Syrian land and the war on terror,” he told the Interfax news agency.
Within 24 hours of Biden being sworn in last month, additional U.S. forces entered Syria after most had been pulled out by former President Donald Trump.
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