Super powers playing Russian roulette
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.