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Sunday, 30 April 2017

Russia and Trump's U-turn on Syria

In a sudden reversal of his previously declared stand on not toppling the Syrian regime, US President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes and confounded analysts

Taha Abdel Alim , Thursday 13 Apr 2017
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The US missile strike on Al-Shayrat Syrian military airbase was justified by the US president and officials on the claim that a chemical gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun town in Idlib Province had been launched from the base.

Then the US secretary of state announced a sudden shift in the Trump's administration position towards Syria, asserting that there shouldn't be a role for President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria's future. 

Steven Mnuchin, US secretary of the treasury, stated that the US will declare soon a new package of sanctions to be imposed on Syria.

Tracking Russia's reaction following Trump's U-turn on Syria, first we must note that the Pentagon announced that the strike was a limited military step and a reaction. However, immediately after the strike, the Russian prime minister stated that it could end in direct engagement between the US and Russia. Russia declared that while the Security Council members' efforts were focused on finding a consensual formula to launch an investigation on the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, Washington was preparing to move unilaterally in a clear breach and violation of international law.

Russia condemned the American military action, stressing its opposition to it, considering it contradictory to international law and a dangerous escalation, destructive to joint anti-terrorism efforts and future relations between the two countries. In the Security Council, the deputy permanent Russian representative to the UN directed his comments to the US administration saying, "You have destroyed Iraq and Libya and their military bases and you see what's going on there?"

The Russian diplomat added that American aggression was encouraging terrorism where the Islamic State group launched a wide-ranging attack following the US strike. He added that the American call to push for a political settlement in Syria after its military strikes was hypocritical call and that it destroyed the positive results of the Astana meetings on reaching a settlement in Syria.

However, in spite of the American escalation, Russia saw it as enough to pledge to enhance Syrian air defences in order to avoid a repetition of such operations.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon spokeswoman asserted that the US was still in contact with Russia through communication channels for securing air sorties over Syria.

The Associated Press claimed, quoting high ranking American military sources, that Russia agreed on keeping the hotline open with US defense department officials in the framework of the memorandum of understanding between them on ensuring the safety of the plances of both powers in Syrian skies. But the Russian defence ministry spokesman denied this, announcing that Russia had decided to stop respecting the aforementioned memorandum.

The deputy chairman of the defence committee in the Russian parliament considered that suspending the memorandum of understanding allows his country to respond to US threats, such as the missile attacks.

Another Russian military expert considered that the US president issuing his order to strike Syria came close to what can be described as a "hot war", averted only by Russian self-restraint.

A third Russian military expert clarified that the air defence systems deployed in Syria follow the orders of Russian military command and only protect the Russian army and sites where Russian troops are based. 

A political expert called for remembering and studying the last Israeli air strike on Syria targeting a Syrian airbase in which Russian military personnel worked. He considered this air strike as a test of the Russian reaction. And we shouldn’t ignore the statement of the Russian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman saying that Moscow will review the possibility of resuming the memorandum of understanding according to the development of events, and that Russia would always remain open to dialogue.

On the other hand, America also perceives the constraints on any possibility of direct military engagement with Russia; thus it notified Moscow of its intentions to launch missile strikes and in turn Russia notified the Syrian side that withdrew its military personnel and equipment from the airbase, according to an American expert. 

Fourth, internal circumstances in the US and disputes between members of the American elite were behind the US missile strike, so claims Komsomolskaya Pravda. The Russian newspaper said that US President Donald Trump’s popularity in the US is steadily plummeting towards rock bottom; that internal legislative bills are crumbling and on the horizon looms his dismissal from office.

A conflict with Russia following the launch of a US military strike against Syria provides a solution to all problems Trump faces, for it would align the US elite and unify it, point to the president’s innocence relative to claims of Russian interference in the US presidential elections process, raise his popularity, and allows his Middle East allies to fight Iran on Syrian land.

Perhaps Trump may really decide to send American troops to Syria, in order to gain some time, silence his opponents and align the US elite. However, Trump knows quite well that as for Democratic Party leaders and their supporters he is nothing but an enemy, and they won’t be satisfied until they have him removed.

The eruption of a new dispute against Russia and Iran in Syria means that Trump has succumbed to the Democratic hawks’ desires. But in all likelihood, Russia is still betting on rebuilding its relationship with America under Trump’s Republican administration, after its deterioration during Obama’s Democratic administration.

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