Syrian conundrum: Mounting US-Russian tension

Dhaka,  Mon,  24 October 2016
Published : 14 Oct 2016, 22:43:30

Syrian conundrum: Mounting US-Russian tension

Syrian conundrum: Mounting US-Russian tension
Sayed Kamaluddin
US Secretary of State John Kerry carried out his threats and called off the peace talks to end the five-year long Syrian civil war with his Russian counterpart Surgei Lavrov last week. This, indeed, is a disturbing sign. The Washington Post in a recent exclusive story revealed US defence staff's classified proposals to be discussed at a high-level meeting sometime this week.

The Post report said that  'classified proposals' from a high-powered policy-making body is to be placed for President Obama's consideration which includes " bombing Syrian air force runways using cruise missiles and other long-rage weapons fired from coalition planes and ships as well as other acts of aggression." A meeting of the body called Principals Committee, attended by Secretary of State, Secretary of defence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CIA Director and top White House officials is to be convened in the midst of rising tensions between the world's two most powerful military powers.

The newspaper reported quoting an unnamed administrative official that in order to placate White House concerns over launching such direct military attacks against another country without authorisation from the United Nations Security Council, it has been proposed that the strikes be carried out "covertly and without public acknowledgement."

According to the official, the Post said, both the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have already expressed support for such, what they called, "kinetic options." The Post, quoting the same official, also said that both the CIA and Pentagon were backing such a military option because "the fall of Aleppo would undermine America's counterterrorism goals in Syria."

An American newsman, Bill Van Auken, said in his commentary last week: "What the US military and intelligence apparatus really fear is that the Russian-backed Syrian government offensive to overrun eastern Aleppo will deprive the so-called 'moderate' rebels who have been armed, funded and directly paid by the CIA and US regional allies - Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar - of their last stronghold in Western Syria's major population centres. This would spell a crushing reversal for the five-year-old war for regime change orchestrated by Washington."

MORE DANGEROUS THAN COLD WAR: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the mass circulated Bild newspaper that the changing situation "is more dangerous than the Cold War." He said: "It is fallacy to think this is like the Cold War. The current times are different and more dangerous."

Wolfgang Ischinger, who served as OSCE (The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) mediator for Ukraine, told the same German newspaper that there was "considerable danger of a military confrontation." He said: "this danger has not been as strong in decades and the confidence between West and East has never been so low." 

Meanwhile, news agency reports from Moscow based on publicly available tracking data say, Russia has built up its forces in Syria following the collapse of the ceasefire in late September, sending in troops, planes and advance missile systems. The data pointed out that during two weeks preceding the truce it appeared to be Russia's biggest military deployment to Syria since President Vladimir Putin in March last announced that he would pull out some of his country's forces.

According to military analysts, the number of Russian troops on the ground in Syria may not be very large but recent delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missile system needed the presence of specialists to put them into operations. The presence of the S-300 missile systems has substantially improved Russian capability to control Syrian air space and aimed at deterring any possible tougher US action in the country, they said.

Besides, the Moscow report further said that since late September, 10 Russian navy ships have crossed the Bosphorus en route to Syria compared to five in the 13-day period before the truce between August 27 and September 07. 

Reuters news agency quoting officials in Washington reported that the US was considering tougher responses to the assault on Aleppo, including the possibility of bombarding an Assad air base. This report seems to corroborate the Washington Post report on the CIA and Pentagon's joint initiatives on bombarding Syrian air bases. OBAMA LIKELY TO REJECT MILITARY ACTION: Interestingly, the Washington Post report suggests that while US President Barack Obama is likely to reject the joint CIA-Pentagon proposal for military action, the combined pressure of the powerful defence establishment may force a shift in policy. That Obama was against getting directly involved in Syria was clear from the beginning, but the idea received further boost earlier this month from the leaked audio released in New York by the New York Times in which secretary of State John Kerry was heard saying "I lost the argument."

What the argument was about? The tape widely reported that Kerry pushed President Barack Obama to take a more robust path in Syria, to give teeth to "international efforts" to force Assad aside and 'end a civil war now heading into its sixth year.' According to the tape, Kerry told Syrian rebel leaders "Look, I get it" and said "any further American efforts to arm rebels or join the fight could backfire."  At one point, Kerry surprised the Syrian rebels by saying that they should participate in election that include President Bashar al-Assad, five years after Obama demanded that he step down.

The New York Times released a video on October 30 in which a dejected Kerry told a group of Syrians in New York: "The problem is that, you know, you get, quote, 'enforcers' in there and then everybody ups the ante, right? Russia puts in more, Iran puts in more; Hezbollah is there more and Nusra is more; and Saudi Arabia and Turkey put all their surrogate money in, and you all are destroyed." 

The intensified sound of war drums on both sides does not seem to be a matter of any individual truce violation. In the context of the breakdown of talks on Syrian ceasefire and the menacing military escalation by both sides, American journalist Bill Van Auken made an interesting observation. Pointing to the US side, he said there were egregious hundreds of attacks carried out by the US-backed militias. He added, "Even more decisive was the September 17 US bombing of a Syrian outpost near the town of Deir ez-Zor, which killed and wounded nearly 200 troops. While Pentagon claimed that this airstrike was an accident, Syria has charged that it was intentional."

MORE TO THE 'ACCIDENT' THAN MEETS THE EYE: Meanwhile, the 'accidental' US bombing has actually served to blow up the ceasefire deal painstakingly brokered by Kerry and Lavrov and prevented the implementation of a joint targeting and intelligence-sharing agreement with Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian state TV's First Channel on Sunday: "We have witnessed an aggressive Russophobia that now lies at the heart of US policy towards Russia… It's not just a rhetorical Russophobia, but aggressive steps that really hurt our national interests and pose a threat to our security."

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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