The surprise strike by the United States on a Syrian airbase on Thursday night has triggered an angry response by Russia, which has sought to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the strike and vowed to bolster the air defense of the Assad regime.
In an English-language press release, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that only 23 of 59 U.S. Tomahawk missiles reached the base, and said the “combat effectiveness … is extremely low.”
There has so far been no further verification of Russia’s claim about the missiles’ effectiveness, and the U.S. government has reportedly dismissed the assessment:
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry also vowed in the statement to expand its missile defense to protect its Syrian ally.
“In the near future, the effectiveness of the Syrian Armed Forces air defense system will be improved in order to cover the most important objects of the Syrian infrastructure,” said the statement.
There are, however, questions about the extent and readiness of Russia’s anti-missile technology. One critic, in a tweet referring to Russia’s alleged downing on a civilian airliner, suggested the country was unable to shoot down the American missiles.
Another report from a BBC journalist, though, suggests the Russia’s anti-missile system in Syria had been turned off—though it’s unclear if (in the event this is true) this reflected a deliberate decision on Russia’s part or if the U.S. had somehow disabled the system.
The dispute between Russia and the U.S. comes amid fears the two countries could come into direct armed conflict since both sides have an active military presence in Syria. (See also: “After the Missile Strikes in Syria: What Happens Next?“)
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Meanwhile, some scholars have struck a more optimistic note, saying the U.S. strikes could hasten an end to the civil war in the country.
The news of the strikes has also led oil prices to surge.