After more than a year of nothing but praise, admiration, and friendly overtures toward Vladimir Putin, President Trump issued a stern condemnation and a veiled threat directly to the Russian strongman via Twitter on Sunday, according to CNN.
Trump called Syrian president Bashar al Assad an animal and blamed Putin personally for his part in the alleged Syrian chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians, including children.
This comes on the heels of reports of a suspected poison gas attack by Syrian government forces in rebel-occupied Douma, a city in the region of Ghouta, near the capital city of Damascus.
Unofficial reports placed the death toll at more than 40, with scores of others injured. The Russian government has denied that the attack happened, calling it fake news, according to Fox News.
This marks the first time that Trump has condemned Putin, by name, since taking office. Although Trump singled out Putin, he also expressed his anger at the Russian government and Iran as well.
For several months, Trump’s detractors have questioned his silence on Putin, despite mounting evidence that the Kremlin was directly involved with interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
The president was recently criticized for his congratulatory call to Putin after a questionable electoral win. Trump and his campaign are also currently under suspicion of colluding with Russia during his bid for the White House.
There is rampant speculation that Putin might have compromising materials and information on Trump, preventing the president from speaking out publicly against the former KGB agent, but Sunday’s tweet appeared to signal a change in his feelings concerning Putin and Russia.
This latest development in Syria has also raised questions over how the United States will respond to the actions, allegedly carried out by the Assad regime, with the suspected knowledge and blessings of the governments of Russia and Iran.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price… to pay…”
Trump’s cryptic warning of a “Big price to pay” also drew speculation over whether the administration is souring on Russia and preparing to adopt a more aggressive stance toward the Kremlin.
One sign that the Trump administration could be changing its policy toward Putin and Russia, according to analysts, is the White House joining with several allied nations in expelling Russian diplomats in the wake of the suspected Kremlin-connected assassination attempt on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the U.K.
The president has already demonstrated that chemical weapon attacks on civilians is a red line for his administration and will not be tolerated.
Trump ordered a devastating cruise missile attack against Syrian government positions in response to a previous chemical attack that occurred at Khan Shaykhun early last year.