ANURADHA CHENOY | 9 APRIL, 2017
Russia-US Face Off: Chemical Attack Not By Assad
NEW DELHI: The United States missile attack on a Syrian airbase in Homs--justified as a response to a chemical weapons attack on a Syrian town earlier where many people, including children died--- is a marker in the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
One, It shows a renewal of US aggressive intervention in far away conflicts.
Two, It establishes that Trump would seize a moment of emotion and anguish to jump into a fray, without investigation, if necessary to retain US policing of international situations.
Three, it also shows that Trump would be willing to turn around from his proposal of a ‘different’ foreign policy, where he rejected regime change- in this case on President Bashar al -Assad.
And further, the priority Trump had proposed on stopping the terrorist forces under the Islamic State in collaboration with Russia could be over turned.
Moscow, that had condemned the chemical attacks in Syria earlier, argued as did the Assad regime, that it was the rebel and terror groups and not the Assad regime that had carried out the chemical attacks.
The Russians invited the US to do a thorough investigation to establish their allegations. Meanwhile, Russia has strongly condemned the US missile attacks, that killed nine people including four childrenn as well. The Kremlin declared the US action a violation of international law.
Moscow’s reaction, in turn shows, that Russia is unlikely to forsake its allies and clients to better their relations with the US. And that Moscow will hold on to its positions in West Asia.
Moscow now wants to cancel its military coordination hotline with the US. In that event the US-Russian military face off could escalate direct conflict between the two. Clearly bilateral relations between the two countries have a hit a new low, lower than even the rock bottom levels reached over the last few years.
A big question mark hangs over the chemical attacks, with Russia having joined Syria in completely denying the involvement of the Assad government. While the truth might never be known, the issue has raised apprehensions about a de-escalation of conflict in West Asia, and the future of US-Russian relations, on which both international peace and a revival of international economy depends.
In the recent past, the US and several Western countries had quietly dropped the demand for a regime change in Syria. And had stopped insisting that Assad leave office. They might have been prompted by the experience of Libya and Iraq where a regime change through Western interventionism led to years of civil war, social anarchy and the rise of terror and rebel groups, that spilled over to the entire region and beyond.
Who gains from this gas attack and who are the losers?
A clear gainer is the Islamic State. The push for Raqqa and Mosul, the two major sites held by the IS, will be set back as a consequence of this development. The IS would have been on a losing wicket if there was a rapprochement between the US and Russia. IS would also be a major loser if Assad their declared enemy, remained in power.
The second to gain is Turkey, so far not mentioned in this current controversy, except for the fact that it is playing an active role accept in ascertaining the chemical attacks. The preservation of the Assad regime, will be most detrimental to Turkey, since the main concern of Erdogan are the Kurds, who have been fighting the IS. Any gain by the Kurds is seen as a threat by Turkey. Besides, Turkey is aspiring to be the main balancer of power in the region. And a US-Russian détente goes against their game plan.
The same argument applies to Saudi Arabia and other powers, who would not like to see a stable Syria and US-Russia detente.
The losers because of this attack are clearly the Assad regime. It has been directly attacked. Why would then Assad use chemical weapons at a time, when the US and the West was starting to accept his regime?
The second biggest loser is Russia, that is finding it difficult to control the emotional narrative based on chemical weapons use by an ally.
The Russians know this well. Now the game in West Asia will take several new turns. Russia had given some space to Turkish President Erdogan after considerable acrimony, but will re-think this strategy. The Hezbollah, will come out as bigger supporters of Syria, and Iran will closely support Russia.
Trump seemed to be interested in accepting – in a somewhat limited way- the Russian argument that a possible détente between the US and Russia could lead to a better situation not only for the West Asian neighborhood, but also for the US economy. Russia may not support Assad unconditionally, if the US lifts unilateral sanctions. However, much will depend on how much each side is willing to bend- and mend their ways.
So many twists and turns before a clearer picture actually emerges.