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Syria strikes lock US and Russia into new era of animosity

Since the missile strikes, these two nations can’t seem to even be in the same room.
A few weeks ago, Donald Trump invited Vladimir Putin to meet – maybe even at the White House. After US-led missile strikes in Syria, the two nations’ officials can’t get into the same room without insulting each other.

Speaking at an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council Saturday, hours after the US, France and the UK launched missiles intended to take out Syria’s chemical weapons capability, American Ambassador Nikki Haley called on Russia – the main backer of the Syrian regime – “to take a hard look at the company it keeps.” Her Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia retorted that the US and its allies were engaged in the “diplomacy of myth-making.”

Read: Investors unmoved by Syria attack

The strikes against the regime of Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad put an exclamation point on how swiftly ties between the former Cold War foes have deteriorated in recent weeks, with President Trump even overcoming his past unwillingness to criticize President Putin by name.

Now, the US-Russia relationship, already under severe strain over issues from Russian meddling in the 2016 American presidential campaign to its role in Syria and Ukraine, may be irretrievably broken for the foreseeable future. There may be too much bad blood, too much suspicion and too much anger on both sides to turn the animosity around.

A quick take: why Assad’s victories leave him ruling ruins in Syria?

“I don’t see things getting better,” said Boris Zilberman, deputy director of congressional relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a Russia expert. “We’re at a very low point and clearly the administration’s position on Russia has hardened.”

The result has been an unprecedented wave of retaliations and tit-for-tat actions. After the UK blamed Russia for the poisoning of a former spy in Britain, more than 150 Russian diplomats were expelled by the UK and allies including the US. The Trump administration followed with new sanctions on Russian oligarchs including billionaire aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska. His company lost half its value in a day after the sanctions were announced.

Haley raised the prospect of still more sanctions on Russia, saying Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that a fresh round of penalties would “go directly to any sorts of companies that were dealing with equipment” related to Assad and his chemical weapons.

While for now no significant new US sanctions seem likely – limiting Russian market losses after last week’s sharp declines – in Moscow, lawmakers are starting Monday to discuss a draft law with counter-measures against the US.

“What kind of cooperation can there be? Where?” asked Fyodor Lukyanov, head of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who advises the Kremlin. Russia gets “new sanctions and threats every week,” he said. “Americans believe that you can humiliate and put pressure everywhere and at the same time offer cooperation where they need it. This does not happen.”

Trading accusations

The two countries routinely accuse each other of fabricating events, as they did during the Cold War.

The US says Russia is blocking investigators from the scene of the chemical attack that prompted the latest airstrikes. Russia has argued both that the attack in the Syrian city of Douma never happened or that it was orchestrated by the US and its allies to provoke a military response.

“Americans need to understand that the wars of the future will look more like this: Russia is investing significant resources to create propaganda and disinformation,” said Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, after Russia claimed that almost all the missiles fired into Syria were shot down — an assertion the US denied. “Our enemies will work to create confusion and distrust among Americans here at home.”

What limited cooperation there was between the two countries has ground to a halt. A November agreement between the two sides to press all parties in Syria toward negotiations known as the Geneva process has stalled and they have abandoned plans for more “de-escalation zones” to ease the violence. Instead, Russia is attempting to create such zones with Turkey and Iran.

White House hopes

From the White House, there is still hope that Russia will change its posture, and Trump’s informal invitation for an eventual meeting with Putin hasn’t been rescinded.

“After his last call with President Putin on March 20, the president confirmed that the two had discussed a bilateral meeting at a number of potential venues, including the White House,” Robert Palladino, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement Sunday night. “The desire for a meeting still stands, as the president believes a better relationship with Russia is in our mutual interest. That said, the president has been consistent and tough on Russia.”

“While we would like to work with Russia, we also recognize that an improved relationship will require the Russian government to take positive steps, and the president will continue to hold them accountable for malign activities,” Palladino said.

Spurning meetings

In the meantime, though, routine diplomacy has given way to pettiness. Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, can’t get meetings with top officials and had asked for help from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch to do so, Politico reported last month.

Trump, previously reluctant to criticize Putin directly even as others in his administration have done so, has dropped any such restraint. When he announced his plan for the strikes against Syria on Friday night, he said Russia “must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace.”

Valery Solovei, a political scientist at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, which trains Russia’s diplomats, said “I think, yes, this is the end. And not only in Syria, but also in all spheres of Russian-American relations. Some well-informed sources say Putin is furious and plans to put more hardliners in important positions during an upcoming reshuffle in his administration and government.”

The biggest fear on both sides – of a hot conflict between the two nuclear-armed rivals – appears to have been eased for now given the limited nature of the latest strikes in Syria and the use of US-Russian “deconfliction” channels before the attack to make certain their planes weren’t in the same airspace. But the risk of close calls — and potentially lethal conflicts — remains.

‘Met their match’

That was glaringly obvious in early February when US forces killed more than 200 Russian mercenaries who tried to attack a base held by U.S. and mainly Kurdish forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region. The Russian and US militaries both quickly sought to defuse the situation by assuring each other that the mercenaries’ attack wasn’t authorized by Moscow.

“The Russians met their match and a couple hundred Russians were killed,” Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said at his confirmation hearing for secretary of state last week. He said he takes “a back seat to no one” in his view of the threat that Russia presents to the US.

Nonetheless, there are signs that the two sides, amid the standoff, haven’t completely cut off ties, providing a thin possibility that the US sanctions, the heated rhetoric and the Russian accusations of US mendacity mask a desire to get along.

“Russia’s position was taken into account,” said Elena Suponina, a Middle East specialist at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. “No red lines were crossed.”

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P

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Not a single country has ever attacked the USA but still this evil country has killed and is still killing millions of people (Somalia, Libya, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Pakistan, Syria etc)

….and if you add-in the body-count from thousands of Japanese and Germans in WW2, and from North Korea in the 1950’s…all who died from US military action, you’re going to cry 🙁

The US are not angels. But neither are many other regimes with their atrocities. The US (and their Western sphere of influence) are sure to use their military strength to influence world power / economics in their favor. Just a different way of ensuring control of global resources, without open colonialism.

But over time, world power will shift to Asia (China & India prominently), as they are getting economically stronger, and able to afford military hardware. Am thus “looking forward” to the colonialisation of Africa by China. China stand to benefit. African leaders (elected by equally inept voters) are bribable, hence little need for military conflict from the new colonialisers to achieve their goals for power and resources 🙂

…something I might add, after the 11 September 2001 ATTACK in down-town Manhattan, the slogans “Let us never forget” or “We will never forget” you see up to this day.

In the SAME way, what evil Apartheid did to the majority of the people, 24 years after democracy, The People have certainly NOT forgotten. One cannot blame the Africans, understandingly so.

The NY attacks were 17 yrs ago. Hence, can we blame the Americans for using “War against terror” for all their convenient excuses?? (we also have a tendency to blame many things on Apartheid, instead of poor Govt performance)

As us South Africans continue to dwell in the past (I don’t criticize that), so then LET’S ALLOW the Americans the same grief.

The world will just have to accept that many US-led wars will still come (and the US is not bound to lose anytime soon). In the same way, we accept there will be endless protests in SA, which is caused by Apartheid(?)

Was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour ( a U S A military base ) not an attack on the U S A ? If you don’t know that then I would not bother to read the rest of your comment.

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