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A Ukrainian eye for a Syrian one: possible outcome of escalation in Syria

Petro Poroshenko and Donald Trump. Photo: korrespondent.net

After the White House’s recent statements, the Americans are very likely to strike Syria, at least, some facility somewhere in the desert – for they will hardly let their infamous “Odyssey” in Korea recur.

In his Apr 11 interview with Al-Manar, Russia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin reiterated the warning made by Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army Valery Gerasimov a month before that if any foreign airplanes struck Syria, the Russians would destroy not only the missiles but also the planes.

On the same day, Le Figaro quoted some anonymous air force experts as saying that France might strike Syria from its own territory rather than from its bases in Jordan or the United Arab Emirates. It was a kind of a warning for the Russians, like “it is one thing if you strike our bases somewhere in the desert and it is quite another thing if you strike the center of France.” The French obviously meant Saint-Dizier, a base between Paris and Alsace. The general question was what France was going to launch from such a distance. The answer was Rafale fighters, which would however need to be refueled three times before reaching Syria. According to Le Figaro, besides Rafales with their SCALP missiles, France also has Aquitaine, a multi-purpose frigate, which is reportedly operating in the eastern Mediterranean to combat Daesh in Syria and Iraq and is able “to carry out the first powerful and quick strike at a distance of over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).”

As regards the Americans, former employees of their Stratfor thinktank have specified the facilities they are going to strike: Dumeir, Marj Ruhayyil and Mezzeh, air bases around Damascus, which allegedly have something to do with Syria's chemical weapons program.

Dumeir is very close to Eastern Qalamoun, an area that is occupied by terrorists and has suffered from air attacks over the last two weeks, so, one can hardly expect the Syrians to operate a chemical laboratories so close to the frontline. On the other hand, the collapse of the Dumeir base would make life much easier for the terrorists. The same is true for Marj Ruhayyil: in Jan 2018, Fars reported that the base had several batteries of S-125 Pechoras, surface-to-air missile systems that can not only attack airplanes but also intercept missiles. Mezzeh is a big problem for the Israeli air forces.

Thus, Russia has been challenged in an area where it has no troops. The Russians are deployed only in Tartus and Latakia. So, should there be a “duel,” it will be indirect and not fair – as the targets are too far for the Russians. So, let’s hope that the Syrians and the Iranians will be ready to protect the bases.

In any case, the strikes will be stronger that the ones undertaken last year. The attack on Al-Shayrat air base took place on Apr 7, 2017. It followed an alleged chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun. The “chemical attack” in Douma also took place on Apr 7. On Apr 12, Douma was free from terrorists, so, unlike Khan Shaykhun and Salisbury, any state can send an expert group there so they can inspect the scene and the bodies (unless they have been buried).

Cynical as this may sound but even 700 Tomahawks (the biggest number the Americans can use, according to experts) will not affect the war in Syria. To be more precise, this will provoke Iran to invade Syria and not only Syria. The enemies of Israel cannot help applauding the United States’ zeal in protecting its ally.

Experts see no foreign political pretexts for the Americans to attack Syria. Instead, there are plenty of internal political motives: from Trump’s attempt to silence ex porn star Stephanie Clifford, who claims that he paid her money for not hushing up their affair, and the bribe given to the “hawks” for stopping their pressure on political advisor Paul Manafort, who is about to speak about Trump’s contacts with the Russians, to the Nov elections into the Congress. In the meantime, Trump is actively engaged in Twitter rhetoric: now he warns Russia that his nice and new and “smart” missiles will be coming soon, then he blames Special Counsel Robert Mueller for carrying out his Trump-Russia investigation on the basis of “fake news media.” The Russian President’s Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refused to seek logic in Trump’s twits and just said that the Kremlin did not engage in Twitter-diplomacy.

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The goal of French President Emmanuel Macron is much more transparent – he craves for the glory of his great predecessor General Charles de Gaulle. Now that the United Kingdom has broken away from the EU, France remains the only nuclear power in the union. German is a giant in economy but a zero in defense. Macron needs to prove himself as a great peacekeeper somewhere – for even though he is involved in the peace process in Donbass, Russia is treating him like a toad under the harrow.

As far as Great Britain is concerned, its attitude was simply funny: after her Skripal-related anti-Russian charges, British Prime Minister Theresa May suddenly decided to act as a virgin in a brothel and refused to join the U.S.-French Armada. She said that she needed proofs of al-Assad’s guilt. But Trump frowned and the “Iron Lady 2.0” hurried to say that her submarines were at his disposal.

Turkey has supported the anti-Damascus campaign. But its goal is to gain control over the north of Syria and to deprive the Americans of their key allies, the Kurds. Kurdistan has collapsed: what Saddam Hussein failed to do with the help of bombs and tortures, the new Iraqi authorities did with the help of money.

The only logical explanation for the Americans’ steps against Syria is the Nov elections into the Congress. The attack on Syria is just a preparation for a strategic blow on Iran. Seven months are quite enough for them to get ready: the Turks will get all they need in Syria and even in Iraq. The Turkish-U.S. partnership in Syria (aimed also against Iran as 2/3 of the al-Assad army are Iranians) proves that the Russia-Turkey-Iran alliance is situational. On Apr 11, the press service of the Israeli prime minister confirmed this by telling the Russian president that Israel would not let Iran to gain military presence in Syria.

That is, if the Americans’ final goal is to get ready for a war with Iran, the interim goals are to help Turkey to invade Syria and to force Russia out of that country. There are just 70 km from the Turkey-controlled Idlib to the Lebanese border. And the goal is not to attack the Russian bases in Latakia and Tartus but to isolate and “protect” them from the rest of Syria. The best the Russians can achieve there is autonomy for the local Alawites. Once the Russians leave Latakia and Tartus, the anti-Iranian coalition will use Israeli ports. The next stage is to crush Hezbollah in Lebanon. And even if that campaign drags on and Trump faces voters’ displeasure, in Nov 2018, he will gain control over the Congress and will be able to start his second term campaign.

This game has one more player, who is very much like Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in 2008, when he imagined that the universe was going around Georgia, misunderstood Condoleezza Rice and decided that NATO would start a war against the Russians if he started a conflict with them. The consequences are known. Likewise, they in Kiev are waiting for the West’s smashing blow on Russia in Syria. In Feb 2018, they were thrilled to know that Russia’s Wagner Group had lost 60-100 men near Deir ez-Zor. Later Der Spiegel reported that just 14 soldiers had been killed, of whom just 5 were Russians, and that it was “the bad luck of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In his turn, on Mar 30, 2018, Russian military correspondent Semyon Pegov reported that six U.S. men had been killed and eight ones wounded as a result of a guerrilla attack near Al-Shaddadi. Earlier, mass media reported attacks on a U.S. PMC group in Al-Shaddadi and the U.S. base in Ain Issa (north of Raqqa) but the reports were not confirmed.

Should the Americans attack Syria, they in Kiev may try their luck in Donbass. But the problem is that in exchange for a concession in Syria, the Americans may give the Russians certain freedom in Donbass. It will be a kind of an eye for eye deal.

The failure of the Easter ceasefire in Donbass has proved that the Ukrainians keep in mind the former scenario and neglect the latter one. Georgia’s experience shows that an aggressor needs at least two weeks for covering up his graces. Saakashvili failed to do that as his tanks were the first to cross the contact line. Then it took the OSCE observers months “to find out the truth.” Today time is running much faster.

The paradox is that if the Ukrainians do the same, they will break the ceasefire declared by four great powers and the UN Security Council and approved by the OSCE and by doing it, they will attack the army of the “aggressor,” Russia. And once they do it, the Russians will have to deploy their troops in Donbass so as not to disappoint anybody.

Albert Akopyan (Urumov)

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31.05.2018

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