RUSSIA MONITOR

Date: 7 April 2017

Game Changer

In early hours of 7 April, 59 cruise missiles were launched from two US warships USS Porter and USS Ross in the eastern Mediterranean. The Tomahawks targeted a Syrian military air base al-Sharyan in Homs Province. A few Assad’s soldiers were killed. US intelligence has established that the aircraft which on 4 April dropped a bomb containing sarin gas on Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel held town in the Idlib province, was launched from the al-Sharyan air base. 86 civilians died, including 30 children.

© EPA PHOTO US NAVY KENNETH MOLL

Donald Trump’s decision to attack Assad regime forces with missiles, for the first time since the beginning of the Syrian war, has drastically changed the situation not only in Syria, but also in the global context. Main target of the attack is not at all Assad’s regime, but rather its protector, the Putin Russia. Trump’s decision took Moscow by surprise. Russian propaganda apparatus, considered as highly effective thus far, which failed already after the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun (claims, that the gas leaked from the bombarded rebel depot made little sense), broke down again. Russians reacted chaotically, making accusations that are so unfounded that they may only appeal to the Russian public or to the most dogged enemies of the US in the world. Russia, which for the last few years kept doing practically whatever it wanted in Syria, with passive attitude of the former US administration, has ended out in a very awkward situation. All it can do is to threaten to shoot down the US airplanes over Syria – but will Russia dare to do that? It is extremely doubtful. For Putin does not want a total conflict with America. And vice versa, indeed, the Pentagon alerted Russia of its planned attack on al-Sharyan. It seems that we will witness just political escalation between Washington and Moscow. The military action of the US paradoxically reduces the risk of a global war, as it will force Russians to be more cautious. It was the passiveness of the West, led by the USA, that posed a greater risk, as it emboldened Russia to take more and more impudent and dangerous actions.

The scenario most feared by the Russian after Trump’s victory came true. The new US president acted decisively (some may say: unexpectedly, impulsively, not having objectively analyzed the effects of the action). So far, Russia has been an active player and it was Russians that astounded the West with subsequent moves; and America was faced with a fait accompli. Russians behave this way because they knew that any reaction on the part of Obama was barely probable. In the case of Syria, the turning point came in 2013, when the then US president drew the famous red line, let Assad cross the line and failed to react as he had promised. It was then Putin decided that he could act boldly in Syria. And maybe not just in Syria, indeed six month later he attacked the Crimea. The missile attack on the Syrian base ends this shameful period for the USA. Both at the global and regional, Syrian level – now we can expect a stronger engagement of the US, which will put an end to the winning streak of Assad and his allies.

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