EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: While the purpose of the US strikes was to target Syria’s chemical-weapons capabilities, the relatively modest scale of the strikes are an indication of Russia’s ability to cause Western powers to limit their actions.
The recent US missile strikes on three chemical-weapons sites in Syria represent relatively small-scale action against Syrian President Bashar Assad and underline the extent of Russia’s deterrent posture.
The purpose of the strike was to damage Syria’s chemical-weapons program and to deter the murderous regime in Damascus from unleashing further chemical weapons on the civilian population. Yet in actuality, the strikes are more of an indication of Russia’s success at causing Western powers to limit their actions and opt for extreme caution in their response to Assad’s crimes against humanity.
Russian officials made explicit threats to shoot down US missiles prior to the strike and even to target the missile-launchers. These threats are part of a wider Russian posture aimed at showing the entire world – and the Middle East in particular – that Russia stands by the Assad regime no matter what horrors it unleashes.