Allies warned Russia of action on ‘deconfliction channel’ hotline
Steve Bird, Edward Malnick
RUSSIA received a series of crucial warnings from the US of the imminent airstrikes through a 24-hour hotline intended to limit the possibility of a direct military clash between the two superpowers, it emerged yesterday.
In the aftermath of the bombing of Syrian targets, America, Britain and France were all at pains to point out that the so-called “deconfliction channel” – a continuously open line of com- munication between Washington and Moscow – had been repeatedly used.
The strategic hotline was set up after Russia began offering military support to President Bashar Assad in September 2015. It is intended to help avoid any potential misunderstandings as both sides operate over the region, ensure airspace control is respected and so prevent the possibility of clashes between Russian and Western forces.
Yesterday, that hotline appeared to have played an essential role in ensuring that Russia’s hi-tech defence sys- tems and its military might, understood to be in the north of Syria, were not deployed against the allied forces.
Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US “specifically identified” targets to “mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved”, adding that that in no way amounted to any consultation with Moscow over the military action.
He said: “We used the normal deconfliction channel to deconflict airspace, we did not coordinate targets.”
Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador to Moscow, said: “Before we took action, the United States communicated with the Russian Federation to reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties.”
Florence Parly, the French defence minister, said: “We do not seek confrontation… and that is the reason why, with our allies, we have ensured that the Russians were warned beforehand.”
The Russian defence ministry said that only Syrian forces came into direct conflict with allied forces launching the strikes, and “not a single one of the THE Syrian regime used barrel bombs dropped by helicopter in a chemical weapon attack on its own people in the city of Douma, according to the US, France and Britain yesterday.
Justifying the decision to mount airstrikes against Syria, the three governments laid out evidence that the regime had used chemical weapons in the attack earlier this month, which activists, rescue workers and medics say killed more than 40 civilians.
In a statement, the White House said: “Multiple government helicopters were observed over Douma on April 7, with witnesses specifically reporting a Mi-8 helicopter, known to have taken off from the Syrian regime’s nearby Dumayr airfield, circling over Douma during the attack.
“Numerous eyewitnesses corroborate that barrel bombs were dropped from these helicopters, a tactic used to target civilians indiscriminately throughout the war. Photos of barrel cruise missiles entered the Russian air defence systems”.
Asked by The Sunday Telegraph whether either Moscow or the Russian military had been informed prior to the airstrikes, Theresa May said that “full and proper planning was put in place before the air strikes were undertaken to ensure we could mitigate and minimise the impact on civilians and ensure the strikes were absolutely targeted at their aim”, adding that UK had not been involved in those communications.
Vladimir Putin condemned bombs dropped in Douma closely match those used previously by the regime. These barrel bombs were likely used in the chemical attack.”
The Prime Minister told a hastily arranged press conference at Downing Street, called within hours of the missile strikes, that all evidence pointed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad being responsible for the earlier attack on civilians.
Mrs May said: “Open-source accounts allege that a barrel bomb was used to deliver the chemicals. Multiple open source reports claim that a regime helicopter was observed above the city of Douma on the evening of 7th April.
“The opposition does not operate helicopters or use barrel bombs. And reliable intelligence indicates that Syrian military officials coordinated what appears to be the use of chlorine in Douma on 7th April.”
France has also said it has similar proof that “chemical weapons were used in the attack – at least chlorine – and that they were used by Bashar alAssad’s regime. The Syrian government zone of the strikes, but did not speak of retaliation. “History will put everything in its place,” the Russian president said in a statement, adding that Russia will call an urgent session of the United Nations security council to “discuss the aggressive actions of the United States and its allies”.
The Russian defence ministry, however, did threaten to reconsider giving surface-to-air missile systems to Syria in light of the strikes. Russia cancelled a shipment of such missiles under Western pressure in 2013.
‘Numerous eyewitnesses corroborate that barrel bombs were dropped from helicopters, a tactic used to target civilians throughout the war’
denies the claims, and its key ally Russia said it has “irrefutable evidence” that the incident was “staged” with the help of the UK.
The attack on Douma, the last rebelheld town in the Eastern Ghouta region, started on April 6, after negotiations between the rebels and the government stalled.
Activists from the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), which records violations of international law in Syria, reported two incidents of bombs believed to contain toxic substances being dropped by the Syrian air force.
The United States believes the nerve agent sarin was used in addition to chlorine, a senior official said Saturday.
The senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said analysis of images taken from the scene of last week’s attack in Douma pointed to the use of the banned agent.
“And while the available information is much better on chlorine use, we do have significant information that also points to sarin use,” the official said.