U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested a missile strike on Syria may be imminent, warning Russia that it should "get ready" because missiles "will be coming."
In the tweet on April 11, Trump referred to warnings from Russian military officials and diplomats that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and that that the launch vehicles would be targeted.
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria," Trump wrote. "Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"
That was clearly a reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who Trump has blamed for a suspected poison-gas attack that aid groups and emergency workers say killed dozens of civilians in the rebel-held town of Douma outside Damascus on April 6.
The tweet, issued before 7 a.m. Washington time, followed a fresh call from the Kremlin for the United States to refrain from striking Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said such an attack could "substantially destabilize" the "already fragile" situation in the Middle East.
The United States and some of its allies are considering whether to hit Syria over what medical-relief organizations say was a chemical attack that killed dozens of people in Douma on April 7.
"As for the question of what will happen if there is some kind of strike...we would like to hope that all sides will avoid any steps that a) are not provoked by anything and b) could substantially destabilize the already fragile situation in the region,” Peskov said in a regular conference call with reporters.
He declined to comment directly on remarks by Russia's ambassador to Lebanon, who on April 10 repeated a warning from the military that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and that the launch vehicles would be targeted.
Peskov also reiterated Russian denials that Assad's forces carried out a poison-gas attack on Douma, saying that "Russia categorically disagrees with this [claim]" and wants a "dispassionate investigation" into the incident, which killed at least 40 people including children.
Trump, who has vowed to make the perpetrators of the suspected Douma attack pay a "big price," on April 10 canceled a planned trip to South America so he could focus on the Syria situation. The Syrian Army put its forces on alert for a three-day period, while a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, has been sighted in the Mediterranean within striking distance of Syria.
In a second tweet about 40 minutes later, Trump said that the U.S. relationship with Russia "is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War."
"There is no reason for this," he added. "Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?"
Already strained from the start of President Vladimir Putin's current term, in 2012, ties between Russia and the United States have been further damaged by discord over issues including Russia's seizure of Crimea and backing for separatists in a war in eastern Ukraine, its support for Assad in the seven-year war in Syria, and its alleged meddling in the U.S. election that put Trump in office in 2016.
Trump has repeatedly indicated he wants better relations with the Kremlin -- and he faced criticism at home for congratulation Putin on his election to a new six-year term in a March vote that observers said gave Russians no real choice -- but he has criticized Russia and Putin himself over Moscow's support for Assad.