Russia received a series of crucial warnings from America of the imminent air strikes through a 24 hour hotline intended to limit the possibility of a direct military clash between the two superpowers, it has emerged.
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 communication 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.
Although the “deconfliction line” has occasionally been closed due to disputes between the two countries, it has proven invaluable while Russia targets those opposed to Assad’s rule, and the West has supported attacks against Islamic State in the region.
And, that hotline appeared to have played an essential role in ensuring that Russia’s high-tech defence systems and its military might understood to be in the north of Syria was not deployed against the allied forces during the air strikes.
In a press conference, Joseph Dunford, American's 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 or planning 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, also said: “We do not seek confrontation and we refuse any possibility of military escalation 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 cruise missiles entered the zone of 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 at a press conference, “full and proper planning was put in place before the airstrikes 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.
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Moscow appeared to be relieved that the damage from strikes appeared limited and no escalation threatening armed conflict with the United States was imminent.
Russian president Vladimir Putin condemned the strikes, but his remarks were relatively tempered, and he did not speak of retaliation.
“History will put everything in its place,” he 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 advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria and other allies in light of the strikes. Russia cancelled a shipment of such missiles under Western pressure in 2013.
Later, a Pentagon spokesman said that line of communication between Russia and America remained open.