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Ruins of a building near Damascus
The US-led airstrikes on Syria are exacerbating already tense relations between Moscow and Western countriesImage: picture-alliance/Xinhua News Agency/M. Memari

Following airstrikes, tensions with Russia on the rise

Miodrag Soric
April 16, 2018

The Russian reaction to Western airstrikes in Syria is a mix of relief and anger. The country's parliament is discussing sanctions against the United States. DW's Miodrag Soric reports from Moscow.


Western allied airstrikes on targets in Syria have further strained relations with Russia. Washington is preparing to a new round of economic sanctions against Russia. And parliamentarians in the Russian Duma are considering retaliatory sanctions, which could be unveiled in the course of this week. Russia's stock exchange opened the week down on speculation that the already hard-hit ruble will tumble further.

German industry concerned

German industry has been nervously following the increased tensions between Russia and the West. Germany's Chamber of Commerce (AHK) has noted that new US sanctions could cost the German economy billions. On the new US sanctions list from April 6 are a number of Russian companies with which German firms have close ties. These include the automotive group, GAZ; Russia's majority-state-owned energy company, Gazprom; the aluminum manufacturer, Rusal; and Renova Group, a multi-sector conglomerate.

Syria tensions weigh on ruble

More sanctions are further evidence that the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine are in urgent need of resolution, AHK Chairman Matthias Schepp told DW. "Regardless of the political situation, the German private sector is invested in Russia like no other," he said. "This was and is the case, and will remain so."

The US-led airstrikes have been met in Russia with a mix of relief and anger, said Pavel Felgenhauer, a defense expert working for the Russian opposition newspaper, Novaja Gazeta. Relief, because no Russians were killed in the strikes. Anger and condemnation, because of the West's decision to proceed militarily at all, even if the action has been widely understood as more symbolic than anything.

Russia's backing of Syria has not changed, Felgenhauer said, with two schools of thought vying for President Vladimir Putin's attention regarding his Syria policy: Politicians such as the economic liberal Alexei Kudrin want a negotiated solution and are ready to approach the West. They fear long-term damage to Russia's economy and not enough public money to modernize it, Felgenhauer said. On the other side are politicians largely from security and military wings who see the airstrikes as further proof of the West's aggressive posture towards Russia. According to Felgenhauer, they fear an amicable resolution of the Syria conflict would encourage Putin to reduce defense spending.

Russia standing by Assad

Posters of Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad
Russian President Putin is standing firmly alongside Syria's Bashar AssadImage: Reuters/O. Sanadiki

Felgenhauer said he thinks negotiations with the West about Syria's future are coming, though he doubts if they will end in a lasting agreement because Russia's defense establishment sees Russia, Syria's President Bashar Assad and Iran winning the conflict. There is currently little incentive to relent, even in light of new western airstrikes and further US sanctions.

President Assad is doing well, said Natalia Komarova, a Russian governor who visited Assad on Sunday along with other Russian politicians. Russian TV broadcast footage of the visit to show that the West's strikes were ineffective. The Kremlin-friendly newspaper, Izvestja, reported that Syrian missile defense was able to demonstrate its capabilities by taking down a majority of the incoming cruise missiles. And the liberal newspaper, Vedermosti, wrote that the attacks were largely symbolic, helping both Washington and Moscow save face.


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