- Russia’s navy left port in Syria out of concern for its safety after President Donald Trump threatened a strike against Syria.
- Russia says the US has been in contact with it, and a Russian report says the US will let it know ahead of time where it will strike to avoid Russian casualties.
- But the move of Russia’s navy suggests that it has no idea where or when the US will strike and that Russia has yet to figure out Trump.
President Donald Trump’s threat to bomb Syria despite protests from the country’s ally Russia has yielded an immediate and tangible result: Russian warships docked in Syria have left port over fear for their safety.
“This is normal practice” when there is threat of an attack, Vladimir Shamanov, the head of the defence committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, told Russian media.
Satellite images on Wednesday captured 11 ships leaving, including a submarine and some offensive ships, in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s threat. With the ships at sea and moving, they can better situate themselves to avoid fighting on land and spread themselves out.
As the ships were in port, a single pass of a few US bombers could have easily decimated the fleet.
Trump’s threat scrambles Russia, Syria’s militaries
Trump’s promised military strike on Syria has yet to materialise, though the US, its allies, Syria, and Russia all seem to have moved their assets around in preparation for battle.
Syria relocated its air assets to Russian bases, most likely to put them under Russian protection, and the US has dispatched an aircraft carrier to the region.
According to Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian studies, Russia has also flown in aircraft that specialize in anti-submarine warfare, as speculation builds that the US or its allies may fire submarine-launched missiles at Syrian targets.
While Trump has done nothing militarily to respond to Saturday’s suspected chemical weapons attack the US blames on Syrian forces, the president has rallied US allies and put Russia on the defensive by promising action.
“Putin is not interested in a shooting war with the West,” Gorenburg said. Whether the risk of nuclear conflict or simply the fact Russia’s conventional forces “just aren’t as strong as the US forces,” such a fight “would not be a good outcome for Russia,” he added.
Trump said to be planning to warn Russia of any strike, but does Putin trust him?
A report from Russian media said that the US had been coordinating with Russia to avoid Russian casualties in a US strike on Syria and that the US would inform Russia of the targets before the strike. The Kremlin’s representative also said Russia and the US had actively been using an established hotline to avoid military clashes.
The move to send its ships from port may reveal that Russia doesn’t really know what’s going on and either can’t predict or can’t trust Trump’s intentions.
Russia “really did not respect Obama and felt that they had not figured out US foreign policy,” Gorenburg said. “From that point of view, dealing with Trump is a little bit more fraught.”
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