Why does Russia support Syria and Bashar al-Assad and how has Vladimir Putin reacted to the UK airstrikes?

How did Russia and Putin get involved in Syria?

The Soviet Union first gained influence in Syria during the 1970s by supplying aid and arms.

In 2000, Vladimir Putin became president of Russia while Bashar al-Assad became president of Syria.

For a decade the two countries had a fairly solid relationship but Moscow was always a lot closer to Libya.

However, Russian support in Syria increased dramatically following the Arab Spring uprisings which began in 2011.

When Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya, Russia saw the move as an attack on its influence in the middle east.

Russia was particularly worried the US would soon start wielding more influence in the region.

Putin had a long-term relationship with Gaddafi and had several billion dollars’ worth of arms sales pending.

He soon started to look for allies –  and new customers  – elsewhere in the region. Assad and Syria were the obvious choice.

Moscow also feared a rise in radical extremism if the under-threat Assad regime was ever toppled.

What has Russia said about US strikes on Syria?

Following the strikes in the morning of April 14, Vladimir Putin branded the US-led effort in Syria as an “act of aggression” that will exacerbate humanitarian catastrophe.

In a statement issued by the Kremlin, the Russian leader said Moscow is calling an emergency meeting of the United Nations’ Security Council over the strike launched by the US, Britain and France.

Putin added that the strike had a “destructive influence on the entire system of international relations”.

He reaffirmed Russia’s view that a purported chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma that prompted the strike was a fake.

It came after Russian ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said on Twitter: “A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened.

“We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.”

Previously, Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon has said any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted – a step which could trigger a major escalation in the Syrian war.

Alexander Zasypkin said he was referring to a statement by Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Russian chief-of-staff.

“If there is a strike by the Americans then… the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” he told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV.

Defence chiefs in Russia say they will also respond “immediately” if their military units in Syria are hit in any US airstrikes.

Putin’s military has several bases in the war-torn country including Hmeymim airbase, Tartus naval base as well as thousands of servicemen.

Could Russia attack Britain?

While any kind of military attack from Russia on a Nato member is highly unlikely, there is a real threat of a cyber assault directed by the Kremlin.

Boris Johnson has warned the UK needs to be prepared for a cyber war in which Russia could cripple the NHS, transport networks and online banking.

The Foreign Secretary said UK intelligence agencies were taking “every possible precaution” to protect against online warfare.

Britain’s spying agencies have been put on stand-by to hit back against the Kremlin if they launch a retaliatory attack for Britain’s role in the 105-missile blitz on the Russia-backed Syrian regime on Saturday.

It came as intelligence insiders even warned that Russia’s revenge could come in the form of “kompromat” – the release of embarrassing information on leading UK politicians and celebrities.

Is Putin’s ongoing support crucial to Assad’s survival?

Russia has long stood by the controversial Syrian regime both militarily and politically.

Putin has even vetoed an inquiry into the chemical weapons attack on Douma.

Without Moscow’s military might, Syria – which can count its allies on two fingers – would be very vulnerable.

Bizarrely this weakness has turned out to be a great bargaining chip when dealing with the Kremlin.

Without Assad, his cronies insist, Syria will soon fall into the hands of ISIS extremists hell bent on taking over the world.

And they’ve got a point. The main reason for Assad staying in power is because of Russia.

Just the threat of upsetting Putin has kept many of Assad’s rivals at bay.

Syria’s only other true ally Iran would certainly be reluctant to take on its growing list of enemies.

Source: www.thesun.co.uk

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