No sooner did U.S. President Donald Trump order his first decisive and direct attack on the Bashar al-Assad regime, Russia's media scrambled to toe the Kremlin line and denounce it.
In their blanket coverage of the U.S. airstrikes in Syria, the tone and message of mainstream Russian news channels was a familiar one — mostly matching, sometimes verbatim, official government statements that criticize the airstrikes. Like this one from a presenter on TV channel Rossiya 1, as translated by BBC's media monitoring service.
"The U.S. staged an absolutely unmotivated show of force against a country which has been fighting international terrorism. The U.S. authorities are simply refusing to see the obvious: Syrian government troops had not used chemical weapons. The situation in Idlib has simply been used as a pretext."
There were quotes from unnamed Russian experts, as well, like this one that aired on Channel One, also from the BBC service.
"The attack in Syria has already been called an act of aggression. Political experts say that the use of force against an independent state can lead to extremely dangerous consequences. They note that Washington used false information about an alleged chemical attack as a pretext for carrying out the strike."
There was no shortage of speculation that future relations between Russia and the U.S. would be strained, and warnings of possible direct confrontation ahead.
The head of a parliamentary foreign affairs committee Konstantin Kosachev expressed disillusionment and doubt about Trump.
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"It all looked so good in the beginning. What a shame," Kosachev said on Russian TV channel NTV.
On Russian news website RBK, Moscow Carnegie Centre expert Andrei Kolesnikov said U.S.-Russia relations hardly had a chance to change for the better.
"Trump is already not 'ours.' And from this the frustration of the Russian side is even stronger than it could have been under the potential president Hillary Clinton," he said. "The head of the American state on whom such hopes were placed, in fact, betrayed our interests, the interests of establishing a new model of the world order."
'People are in shock'
Russian Trump supporters watching from Moscow could not agree more.
Like conservative analyst and writer Dmitri Drobnitski. Just a few short months ago, he and others celebrated Trump's election with champagne, hailing him as someone Russian President Vladimir Putin could relate to, and hopes were running high for new friendlier relations between Russia and the US. In an interview with CBC News just before the inauguration Drobnitski said he personally didn't like Trump but did find him a breath of fresh air.
Reached by phone Friday in Moscow, Drobnitski expressed anger and alarm at the airstrikes and warned things could escalate very quickly.
"Russian people are frustrated. They were waiting and anticipating quite the opposite. Co-operation, fighting against terrorism together, being allies ... and now they are getting this. People are in shock."
Drobnitski said Trump betrayed his own words, his voters and Russians who thought something would change in how the U.S. and Russia worked together in Syria.
"It absolutely undermines everything he was saying during his campaign," Drobnitski said.
'Could lead to war'
He spoke nostalgically when recalling recent assurances from Trump that the U.S. would not engage in unnecessary interventions in the Middle East and said he was in favour of Russia and the U.S. fighting ISIS together.
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"If we proceed not talking, if we proceed [with] this tension, that could lead just to war — probably between even United States and Russia, which is actually the end of days."
Reached in Moscow by phone, military expert Pavel Falgenhauer said if this strike was a standalone action, as Washington claims it was, that would be acceptable to Moscow.
"But there is also a fear this could be the beginning of a sustained campaign to undermine, chip away and then replace Bashar al-Assad, which Russia does not want to accept at all."
"The Syrian war will continue unabated. This does not change drastically anything in Syria."
Both experts say the majority of Russians continue to support the Kremlin's role in this ongoing crisis. As Drobnitski explains it, "The opposition press, of course, is pursuing the point of view that we should not be there and should not support Assad. But the majority of people are very much pro this situation, this military operation.
"They like that their country is back to the world stage, that the government is projecting global power."
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