Su­per pow­ers play­ing Rus­sian roulette

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Sunday Tribune - - NEWS&VIEWS -

RUS­SIA and the US are tee­ter­ing on the verge of a full-scale proxy war in Syria that could have dev­as­tat­ing im­pli­ca­tions for in­ter­na­tional peace and se­cu­rity.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing the US,

France and Bri­tain bombed three or four chem­i­cal-pro­duc­ing sites and com­mand cen­tres after US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump or­dered air at­tacks in Syria “on tar­gets associated with chem­i­cal weapons ca­pa­bil­i­ties”.

The at­tacks come in re­sponse to al­le­ga­tions of a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack on April 7 on civil­ians in Douma, eastern Ghouta.

A day after the at­tack, Trump said Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin bore re­spon­si­bil­ity for the atroc­ity be­cause of his sup­port for the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment.

On Wed­nes­day Trump tweeted: “Rus­sia vows to shoot down any and all mis­siles fired at Syria. Get ready Rus­sia, be­cause they will be com­ing, nice and new and smart.”

That prompted the Rus­sian De­fence Min­istry to re­spond, say­ing: “Rus­sia’s army and fleet have stepped up ac­tiv­ity in the Black Sea, Mediter­ranean, and Caspian Seas. Kal­ibr strikes may be launched on US fa­cil­i­ties and bases in the Mid­dle East if the Pen­tagon at­tacks Rus­sian bases in Tar­tus and Hmeymin.”

Moscow’s am­bas­sador to the UN, Vass­ily Neben­zia, has said he “can­not ex­clude” the pos­si­bil­ity of a war between Rus­sia and the US.

What makes this es­ca­la­tion par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous is that a num­ber of opinion pieces emerg­ing in Rus­sian news­pa­pers are tak­ing the view that sink­ing US ships or us­ing Kal­i­brs on US forces in the Mid­dle East is now in­evitable. Ever since the Skri­pal in­ci­dent, there has been a grow­ing per­cep­tion among Rus­sians that talk­ing to the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment was now a fu­tile ex­er­cise.

What of­fers a glimpse of hope is that as of Fri­day Rus­sia and the US seemed to be back-ped­dling on war talk with Trump say­ing the US may fire mis­siles and may not and Moscow say­ing it may not carry out threats to seemed to want to main­tain good re­la­tions with Putin, hav­ing called to con­grat­u­late him on his pres­i­den­tial re-elec­tion and in­vited him to Wash­ing­ton, other fac­tors will be at play.

He may want to ap­pease the neo­con­ser­va­tives as well as the Saudis and Is­raelis, and look tough by tak­ing pre-emp­tive mea­sures. There may also be a de­sire to act on his rhetoric and fol­low through on prom­ises of de­liv­er­ing smart new mis­siles.

Per­haps even more wor­ry­ing is the pres­sure com­ing from the hawks in his own se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus that want to see Iran weak­ened by deal­ing a fa­tal blow to Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-as­sad.

When As­sad spoke to the me­dia this week, along­side Ali Ak­bar Ve­lay­ati, the top ad­viser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, it was like wav­ing a red flag to a bull.

Max­i­mum pres­sure is prob­a­bly be­ing put on Trump to fire on Syr­ian forces to weaken As­sad’s po­si­tion and, in the process, Iran’s key ally.

This time the Euro­peans will be less ret­i­cent to en­ter the fray. French Pres­i­dent Emanuel Macron has al­ready sig­nalled a will­ing­ness to join the US in strik­ing Syria and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has spo­ken of back­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion.

In eval­u­at­ing the like­li­hood of a ma­jor con­fla­gra­tion, one must con­sider whose in­ter­ests will be served, and, sadly, this time there are more per­ceived ad­van­tages in the minds of the pro­tag­o­nists.

For many in Rus­sia, peace­time has meant eco­nomic stag­na­tion, and some take the view that a new era of mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion will spur the econ­omy and unite the coun­try.

Pow­er­ful el­e­ments in the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ments of both Bri­tain and the US seek a mil­i­tary show­down with Rus­sia, as ev­i­denced in the rush to blame Rus­sia for the Skri­pal poi­son­ing with lit­tle, if any, proof.

The great­est losers in this game of Rus­sian roulette will be Syria’s peo­ple, who will suf­fer more dev­as­ta­tion, trauma and vi­o­la­tions.

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