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World

Russia Responds To U.S. Airstrikes In Syria

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Last night's U.S. missile strike on Syria was a strike on an ally of Russia. Russia has a naval base in Syria and has sent its own warplanes at times to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad, even bombing civilian areas as part of the civil war. Russia also blocked the United Nations this week from responding to a chemical weapons attack. Now the United States has acted alone, and we have reached Nathan Hodge of The Wall Street Journal who's in Moscow. Welcome to the program.

NATHAN HODGE: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: What are Russian officials saying?

HODGE: Well, Russian officials are describing this as an act of aggression by the U.S. against a sovereign government in violation of the norms of international rights and under what they are calling a contrived pretext. This is what the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said this morning in Russia in a statement. And what they're talking about as the pretext is their version of events over the recent gas attack, saying that they believe that the timing of this was suspicious, and this was a deliberate - that the strikes were planned in advance.

INSKEEP: I guess we have to ask because there's a different version of reality in the Russian media, the state-controlled media, are the Russian media acknowledging that Syria was behind this gas attack, or are they saying something else?

HODGE: They're actually throwing out several different versions. We had the Russian military, which said that this wasn't an attack, it was the result of a strike by Syrian government aircraft. And then we had the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, again, insinuating that this was somehow deliberate and that information, for instance, that came from groups such as the White Helmets in Syria was not to be trusted, that they were part of an agenda to wage information warfare or undermine the government in Syria. So this is the reality that we inhabit here in Russia in the media space.

INSKEEP: The White Helmets, of course, those are people who try to rescue civilians who are trapped in rubble and so forth after various bombings inside Syria. Now, let me ask, we were told by Pentagon officials, Nathan, that Russia was warned. They got some advance warning so that if any of their troops were at the air base that was to be striked (ph), they could get out of the way. Does Russia acknowledge that they were warned?

HODGE: I don't have any information on that. But we have seen images from that air base from Russian correspondents who are based there on the ground. So we have seen images on Russian television of damage to the hangars and some of the damage on the base that was hit by these U.S. strikes.

INSKEEP: And maybe the presence of Russian correspondents is a pretty good clue that there were Russians there, I suppose.

HODGE: Well, the Russian correspondents have often embedded closely as well with regime forces in Syria.

INSKEEP: OK.

HODGE: But we don't have at this stage much information about whether there were Russian casualties.

INSKEEP: In just a few seconds, has this strike altered the broader Russian view of President Trump?

HODGE: That's also very difficult to say. Russians initially (inaudible) the election of Trump - at least on the official level - but there's been a lot of frustration because of how slow the Trump foreign policy has been to materialize. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to be here next week. So we're looking to see what kind of dialogue there's going to be, what the rhetoric will be and whether this is going to lead to a sharpening of relations with Washington.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, we'll try to keep in touch and learn more as more develops. Nathan Hodge of The Wall Street Journal, who is in Moscow, thanks very much for your time.

HODGE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And he's talking with us after the United States airstrike on an air base in Syria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.