The Russian Navy sent its most advanced Black Sea frigate into the Eastern Mediterranean on Friday following a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian airfield. Some reports indicate that it might have been a routine move, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke by phone on Saturday nonetheless.
The guided missile frigate Admiral Grigorovich, which has up to eight of the Russian Kalibir NK long range land attack cruise missiles, entered the Mediterranean hours after two U.S. guided missile destroyers fired 59 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles that targeted the al-Shayrat Airfield in central Syria.
At least six people are reported to have been killed in the U.S. missile strikes which were sparked by reports of 89 people, including 33 children and 18 women, dying in the suspected nerve agent attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.
On Thursday, Tillerson spoke with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster in Florida noting Syria’s previous agreements to surrender chemical weapons under the supervision of the Russian Government, and expectations that the Russian government would secure and destroy the weapons, saying, “Clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013. So, either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement.”
Tillerson said that it’s important to recognize that as Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has “continued to use chemical weapons in these attacks with no response – no response from the international community – that he, in effect, is normalizing the use of chemical weapons, which may then be adopted by others. So it’s important that some action be taken on behalf of the international community.”
Reuters reports that Lavrov told Tillerson on Saturday that "an attack on a country whose government fights terrorism only plays into the hands of extremists, creates additional threats to regional and global security."
The Russian ministry said in a statement that he also told Tillerson that assertions that the Syrian military used chemical weapon in Idlib province on April 4 do not correspond to reality.
Tillerson and Lavrov agreed to continue discussions in person, as Tillerson is expected in Moscow for talks with Russian officials next week.
Russia warned on Friday that the U.S. cruise missile strikes could have "extremely serious" consequences. The warships USS Porter and USS Ross in the Mediterranean Sea launched dozens of Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base, which the Pentagon says was involved in the chemical weapons attack.
Syria denies it carried out the attack.