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The Dawn of a New Cold War?

Since the very beginning, when the threat of intervention was upon Syria, Russian commentators expected the worst on the global geopolitical map. Today this scenario is practically inevitable.

September 5, 2013 - Paweł Pieniążek - Articles and Commentary

448px-Bashar_and_Asmaa_al-Assad_in_Moscow.jpg

448px-Bashar_and_Asmaa_al-Assad_in_Moscow.jpg

US President Barack Obama is not intending to wait for confirmation that it was Bashar al-Assad’s regime that used chemical weapons. He is only awaiting the American Congress consent that will be, in all probability, granted. What are the Russians predicting?

The Russian authorities from the very beginning declared that they would not support an intervention in Syria. Although, de facto, the only Russian representative who has spoken boldly on the subject has been the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov. Eventually, Russian President Vladimir Putin also had his say. In a discussion with journalists he said that if the US has proof of chemical weapon, then let them present it to the inspectors and the UN Security Council. “Common sense speaks for itself. The Syrian government troops are advancing. In some regions they have surrounded the insurgents.

In such circumstances giving a trump card to those who are calling for a foreign military intervention is utter stupidity. It is against any logic; especially on the very day of UN observers’ arrival”, said Putin (http://kremlin.ru/news/19113). “Therefore, I am totally convinced that it is no more than a provocation of those who wish to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict, and obtain support from powerful international players, above all, the United States. I have no doubt about that,” he added. Moreover, Putin reminded that the Syrian authorities asked for the inspection earlier when they were suspecting that the insurgents had used chemical weapons. However, at that time no action was taken.

Bombing Syria?

Russian commentators practically unanimously state that the US will probably get stuck in Syria for a longer period of time. “[Obama] spoke about a limited military operation, but practice shows that even in such cases there is an escalation. Therefore, Obama cannot be guaranteed that after bombardment Bashar al-Assad will capitulate and stop activities aimed at the opposition,” states Alexei Makarkin, political scientist and deputy president of the Political Technology Centre (http://www.kp.ru/online/news/1524314/).

When it comes to the conflict itself, experts questioned by Kommersant (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2264927) provide three scenarios. The first one, regarded as the most probable, is to resemble the four day bombardment of Iraq in 1998 with US President Bill Clinton, whose foreign policy is most similar to Obama’s. Saddam Hussein’s regime was in fact not weakened, but its aim was to intimidate the Iraqi authorities.

The second scenario assumes the involvement of several European states. However, the lack of approval from the British Parliament gives the rest of Europe an argument not to support a strike on Syria. It is compared with the intervention in Libya in 2011. The only difference is that anti-missile protection of al-Assad’s regime is stronger; therefore it will require more of US engagement than two years ago when the main roles were played by France and Great Britain. According to this scenario, longer and more intense bombardment of strategic targets is considered.

The third scenario assumes the participation of regional states, mainly Turkey, but also Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The role of Western states in this case would be symbolic.

The choice is primarily dependent on whether the US intelligence finds proof of chemical weapon used by al-Assad’s forces, and to what extent the US allies will become involved.

Don’t insult the allies

Maxim Minayev from the Russian Civil Development Foundation (http://izvestia.ru/news/556300) claims that intervention in Syria might contribute to lower popularity of Obama in the American society – only nine per cent support military activities in Syria. The other factor he points to is its worsening international image. Many observers, not only in Russia, note that, similarly to the case of war in Iraq, it is a weapon that is pretext for military intervention.

In 2003, weapons of mass destruction were discussed and never found; now it is chemical weapons use. In both cases the US did not wait for credible evidence and support of the UN Security Council. That is how reluctance to support the US in this conflict is explained. ITAR-TASS agency source in Brussels notes that at least twelve NATO states are not going to support military activities in Syria without the consent of the UN Security Council (http://www.itar-tass.com/c11/858052.html).

Boris Mezuyev, a Russian political scientist, also believes that the international alliance is the primary factor in this case. He writes (http://izvestia.ru/news/556112) that after the cold war the US lost the possibility to control their allies and now they are trying hard not to offend anyone. However, they are failing. Referring to the article by Walter Russell Mead from the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324619504579028923699568400.html), Mezuyev states that Obama, striving for peace in the Middle East, worsened his relationship with Israel. Moreover, through his cooperation with moderate Islamists in Turkey and Egypt he alienated Saudi Arabia. And so on and so forth. “Therefore, now the US shall attack Syria mainly in order not to-God prevent-insult such faithful allies as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar,” he remarks.

New geopolitical pattern

Lately, it is not only the conflict in Syria that has caused grave tensions between Russia and the US. At the end of 2012, the US Congress passed the Magnitsky Act which prohibits entry onto the American soil of representatives of governments connected with the violation of democracit principles. In an act of revenge, the Russian Duma prohibited the adoption of orphans by Americans. (Meanwhile US vice president Joe Biden’s call for the normalisation of relations was a failure). Afterwards, the case of intelligence agent Edward Snowden and the US expressed concerns about the violation of LGBT rights in Russia. It is no wonder then that in 2013 “the new Cold War” is more and more often being taken into consideration.

The President of the Centre of Political Studies of the Institute of Economics at the Russian Academy of Sciences and the dean of the International Relations Faculty at the School of Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Boris Shmelov claims that this new Cold War will commence as soon as the US launches an attack on Syria (http://svpressa.ru/politic/article/73171/).

Military intervention of the West in Syria is going to generate a rapid deterioration in relations between the US and Russia … [S]uch an operation would simply be like a spit in Russia’s face,” he said. According to Shmelov, it will result in the fact that, in order to protect its dignity and influence in the Arab world, the Kremlin will be forced to openly support al-Assad, as well as provide the regime with weapons. As he remarks, “there are not going to be any great prospects in these relations [American-Russian]. In fact, a new cold war will begin.”

Translated by Justyna Chada

Paweł Pieniążek is a Polish journalist specialising in Eastern Europe.

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