Russia- US likely stand-off over Syrian crisis
Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi
With Russia and the US sticking to their respective positions as regards Syrian crisis and both strengthening their naval bases in the Mediterranean region, the fear of likely stand-off between them looms large. But the responsible global community must unite to prevail upon the US to abandon its likely solo action of military attack on Syria.
A precarious tense situation as regards on-going Syrian imbroglio where the US and its allies together is likely to militarily intervene into Syria- reminding us of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis- looks imminent as both Russia and the US are now sticking to their respective hard positions with respect to regime change in Syria while accusing the President Assad regime of mounting a chemical weapon attack last week on the outskirts of Damascus.
But Syria has rejected the charge, pointing out that it has been a victim of a “false flag” attack that was deliberately carried out by the opposition, but for which the regime of President Assad would be blamed. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad has stressed that US and its allies did not have any proof that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons. On the contrary, the Syrians had provided the visiting inspectors “undeniable proof” that militants had indeed used these weapons. In fact, as he further said that the western countries have been supporting the terrorists operating in Syria including Jabhat al- Nursa- an Al-Qaeda associate.
On the one side Russia is supported by Iran and China, the US is supported by Britain and France and few NATO powers, on the other, though there is emerging global opposition to this impending military strike into Syria as the advocacy of war is meeting stiff resistance by Russia, China and Iran and many other powers of even the West. They are citing international law violations including bypassing United Nations, regional stabilisation and fragility of the international economy as arguments against a military intervention. In the western camp, the ardent advocacy of a military strike seemed to lose a considerable steam by Thursday. In Britain, the opposition Labour Party seemed unconvinced about the justification of waging a war against Syria. The British Parliament has also rejected a resolution piloted by the P.M. David Cameron that would have cleared the path for British participation in an attack on Syria. The ghost of the 2003 Iraq War hung over the Commons debate with members recalling the costs of a war made on the false premise that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Similarly in France President Holland has toned down his harsh rhetoric as he said that “a political solution had to be found to the question.” Also the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not in favour of a military strike on Syria. In fact the US is facing prospects of isolation as many of its NATO allies, at least 10, are steering clear of participation in war against Syria. Russia’s ItarTass news agency is reporting that Austria and Spain have stressed that no military action should be taken before UN inspectors, who are winding up their mission to establish whether chemical weapons were used on the periphery of Damascus, present their report. Evidently the reluctance in several European capitals to attack Syria shows the ant- war sentiments in the West. Such protests against strike on Syria have been held even in several cities of America, including Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago. Thus the Obama administration’s drive to build a broad western coalition has suffered an unexpected blow.
With Russia quietly sending warships to the east Mediterranean in an apparent response to the build-up of US and British and British forces as the crisis over Syria continues to escalate, an ugly and fearful scenario of stand-off between them may acquire a dangerous international dimension with far reaching consequences to the regional as well as global stability and peace & security. As the drumbeat of military war grew louder, Russia silently decided to strengthen its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea close to the Syrian coastline. Moscow is dispatching a large anti-submarine ship and a missile cruiser to this region as reported by the Interfax newswire on 29th August 2013. Thus, the Russians intentions seem to have reinforced the point that a conflict in Syria could acquire a dangerous international dimension because the region is already teeming with American and British warships. The Russians have made it clear that their deployments are in response to the situation surrounding Syria. “The well-known situation shaping up in the eastern Mediterranean called for certain corrections to the make-up of the naval forces,” an unnamed source in the Russian General Staff was quoted as saying by the same news agency Interfax.
Persisting with its strategic partnership with Russia since Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was removed and executed nearly two years ago, China has slammed the Americans for threatening Syria with a war. An editorial in China Daily, rebuked Washington for pursuing a “regime Change” agenda in Syria. Further it said, “Ten years ago, the US and its allies sidestepped the U.N. and orchestrated a forceful regime change in Iraq on the pretext that the regime possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction(WMDs), this should not be allowed to happen again. Refusing to mince its words the daily warned that the US learned from its past mistakes and reined in its wild ideas of military intervention in yet another country. Beijing is also highlighting the negative fall-out of the escalating Syrian crisis on global economy. A commentary in the People’s Daily observed that, “The looming attack has already sent chills through the world economy, as global stocks tumbled on Tuesday while oil and gold prices surged to multi-month highs.” Separately, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated that a “political resolution has, from the very beginning, been the only way out for the Syrian issue.”
In the same way, Iran has also expressed its strong reaction to the possible western punitive military action against Syria while sending messages along a dual track to the western powers. Iran’s newly elected President Hassan Rouhani has counselled the US and its allies to respect international law in their decision-making on Syria on the pretext of using chemical gas attack near Damascus. Simultaneously, Iran has once again warned that an attack on Syria would quickly trigger a chain reaction and spread into the region. Top Iranian military commanders, including the chief of staff of Iran armed forces Hassan Firouzbandi, has warned bluntly that they would incinerate Israel in the event of an attack on Syria, raising the spectre of uncontrolled regional escalation. The Head of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Mohammed-Ali Jafari stressed that the US would face another Vietnam War scenario if it targeted Syria. In the same voice Iran’s defence minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan said that “not only will the use of force and violence fall to relieve tensions but will also intensify the crisis and cause it to spread to other political entities”. The real losers of any war will be those who initiate it,” said the General.
Against this backdrop, any military strike on Syria by the West will result into strict polarisation between the US and its allies and Russia including China and Iran which will be fatal for the peace and security of not only the region but also for the entire world. Unfortunately, despite roadblocks in forming an international coalition against Syria President Obama is preparing for the possibility of launching unilateral military strike on Syria thereby out rightly ignoring and challenging the global anti-war sentiments and also the union of Russia, China, Iran and many others in the region on this issue because the absence of compelling evidence on the involvement Syrian regime in the chemical weapons attack was a misgiving shared by many nations. That due process is not being followed with respect to Security Council support for military intervention was another deeply-troubling aspect of President Obama’s strategy. President Obama’s strike will further cause erosion of America’s position of in West Asia. President Assad will emerge with greater political support, not less; Russian and Chinese influence will be enhanced. While backing Assad has caused Iran and Hezbollah some of the popularity they accrued with Sunni Arab publics from the long records of “resiatance” to Israel and America. Both judge that, if either America or Israel becomes militarily involved in Syria, this will undercut Saudi-sponsored narratives depicting the conflict in sectarian terms, transforming it into more Iranian led resistance, Obama is about to oblige them- ushering in a regional balance increasingly tilted against the US. These anti-war countries will not sit quiet but will oppose the US military might tooth and nail in support of Syria as Damascus has categorically stated to retaliate with full force whatever is available with it.
Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi is Associate Professor, Political Science,
at M. D. P. G. College, PRATAPGARH (UP), India.