As tensions between the US and Russia over Syria continue to rise, both sides have been making noises like they are preparing for war. At its root, the conflict is a simple one: Does Assad stay as president of Syria or not? Beyond that question, the issues start getting more complex and the implications of the conflict more ominous.
Russia has made it plain that Assad and the country he leads are solid allies, and that it will defend both the alliance and Assad’s position as president of Syria. That it is willing to engage the US in military combat to accomplish this it has also made plain, although one can seldom tell just how firm those threats are unless an “event” occurs.
Contrary to Russian interests, the US has made it clear that regime-change is the goal in Syria, labeling Assad as a tyrant committing horrible atrocities against his own people to maintain his hold on power. The US has indicated a willingness to at least consider direct military intervention in Syria to topple Assad, something that is anathema to Russia.
Is all of this a ramp up to actual war between Russia and the US, or is it just a game of flexing of muscles and of bluffing prior to a negotiated settlement? More on page two.
Are the current hostilities between the US and Russia the start of a new Cold War, or are they just the latest flare-up in a Cold War that never ended? That discussion may be academic, but if things warm up, the results won’t be.
So far, we’ve had a war of words. While it’s typically difficult to discern where other nations’ red lines are, perhaps an indication of the seriousness of the situation can be estimated by listening to those words and seeing what actions the various players are taking.
With the US State Department as well as President Obama and presidential candidate Clinton making bellicose statements regarding Russia, Russia has directed thatfamily members abroad return to Russia. Now we learn of additional measures taken by Russia, some of which include the following:
As the confrontation between the United and Russia has worsened over Syria, and amid speculation Washington might launch airstrikes against Syrian government forces, Russian state-controlled media has gone into high gear, asking Russians whether they are prepared for nuclear war.
“If that should one day happen, each of you must know where the nearest bomb shelter is,” a report on the state-controlled network, NTV, noted, before taking viewers on a tour of a nuclear bunker in Moscow.
This month Russia held a large-scale civil defense drill across the country, meant to prepare people for disasters, among them nuclear catastrophe. The drill, which Russian authorities claimed affected 40 million people, and particularly the way it was presented on state television, resembled Soviet-era exercises, with scenes of schoolchildren flooding out in evacuations and being taught to hurriedly pull on gas masks.
One more example:
Russia also conducted a series of intercontinental ballistic missile tests this week, launching three missiles in a single day. Two of the nuclear-capable missiles were launched from submarines off Russia’s Pacific coast, the third was fired from an inland launch pad, RIA Novosti reported.
This all could, and perhaps should, be seen as posturing — Russia baring its teeth as a warning, indicating how serious Russia takes the conflict in Syria. Whether the Bear is really ready to bite, and if so, how hard, is really only known to Mr. Putin and his closest associates. Let’s hope we don’t have to find out for sure.