Russia Condemns U.S.-Led Airstrikes
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And now for a view from Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has called the airstrikes in Syria, quote, "an act of aggression." We're joined now by independent journalist Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, thanks so much for being with us.
CHARLES MAYNES: Good to be with you.
SIMON: What else has Mr. Putin said about these strikes?
MAYNES: You know, well, he's called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council today to discuss the attack. He's also said that Russia sent its own military experts to the site of this alleged chemical attack in Douma and found no indication of chlorine or the gases. He was clearly upset about the fact that the U.S. and its allies had failed to wait for this assessment by the international inspectors from the OPCW. And, you know, he's basically saying that - you know, what Russia's said all along. These - you know, essentially Bashar al-Assad gave up his weapon stores under this deal that was cut with - between the Kremlin and the Obama administration back in 2013. This is something they said all along. Russian officials beyond Mr. Putin have suggested that the aim of these U.S.-led airstrikes were essentially to prevent the OPCW from carrying out its work.
SIMON: At the same time, there was a lot of concern obviously on behalf of the U.S., Britain and France that Russia, that has military assets on the ground there in Syria, might make some kind of military response. What does that look like today?
MAYNES: Well, we heard from Russia's Defense Ministry - has confirming the fact that these airstrikes had avoided hitting Russia's bases in Syria. That's good news and that, in fact, Russia hadn't used its air defenses to take out these missile strikes. They, in fact, have been touting the - that the Syrian government has basically successfully fended off many of these airstrikes using Soviet-era defense systems that were nearly 30 years old. But clearly, they are interested in this idea that the U.S. was hitting both military and civilian targets, suggesting that Moscow may help Damascus beef up its air defenses for providing these S-300 surface air missile systems to Syria in the coming future.
SIMON: Charles, remind us, again, what is the Russian interest in Syria?
MAYNES: Well, they have - first of all, it's their foothold. And it has been now involved in the Syrian conflict for a couple of years. And they went in ostensibly to try to take out ISIS. That's sort of the stated goal of the war. On the other hand, Mr. Putin was clearly looking at it as a way to get Russia out of its international isolation over the crisis in Crimea and east Ukraine. And also Russia's been looking at it as essentially as its toehold into the Middle East for extending its sort of power base more regionally. So (unintelligible) parts of their actual actions in Syria.
SIMON: And if I might ask you in the half minute we have left, is the bromance, if you please, between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at an end from the Russian point of view?
MAYNES: It's been over for a while now. It's only because they think that Donald Trump can't pursue these policies that candidate Donald Trump said he wanted to do. On the other hand, there were some signs of back-channel diplomacy at work even here. We heard in the video address by Ambassador Jon Huntsman here in Moscow - he said that, in fact, the U.S. had communicated with Russia to reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties. So in that sense, they're still opening - they're holding out their hands saying that they're willing to cooperate with Russia if Russia will do the right thing here.
SIMON: Independent journalist Charles Maynes in Moscow, thanks so much.
MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.