The US airstrike in Syria and Russia

Yesterday’s US airstrikes on the Al Shayrat airfield near Homs seems to have been calculated to allow the Trump administration to appear to be acting decisively without necessarily getting bogged down in a conflict or creating a serious confrontation with Russia. To this end, the Pentagon warned Russian authorities about the strikes ahead of time and Russia did not take any steps to activate its air defenses in Syria. At the same time, by warning Russia, the U.S. government ensured that the strike would have very little effect on Syrian military capabilities. Damage reports indicate that the aircraft that were destroyed at the air base were under repair. Most likely, Russian officials warned the Syrian government that the attacks were coming and any valuable aircraft at the base had time to depart prior to the strikes.

As Vladimir Frolov highlighted just yesterday, the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces has placed Russia in a difficult position. Russian efforts to deny Syrian government culpability in the attacks have strained credulity. At the same time, Russian leaders clearly felt that they could not hang Assad out to dry. Assad’s goal may well have been to scuttle any chances for peace negotiations to proceed, in order to force his somewhat reluctant Russian ally to agree to an offensive that would culminate in the elimination of rebel forces from their area of control around Idlib. Russia is thus put in a bind, as it can neither give up on Assad nor fully control him.

In this situation, the U.S. airstrikes may help Moscow out of its difficult situation. Russian leaders can now turn the focus away from the chemical weapons attack itself and toward the U.S. airstrikes as a violation of Syrian sovereignty. At the same time, Assad has been put on notice that the U.S. is not going to stand idly by if he persists in using chemical weapons, which may make him more reluctant to take that risk again, eliminating that method of putting pressure on Russia from his toolkit.

All in all, Russia is unlikely to take steps in response to the airstrikes beyond the usual Foreign Ministry protestations, as long as the strikes are a one time demonstrative act, rather than the start of a more sustained U.S. campaign against the Assad regime in Syria. If the United States continues to attack Syrian government forces, on the other hand, that will place Russia in a difficult position, where it has to choose between abandoning its ally and risking a serious military confrontation with the United States. How Vladimir Putin would choose to act in this circumstance is very much unclear. The consequences of forcing Russia into this choice could be very risky.

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5 thoughts on “The US airstrike in Syria and Russia

  1. Nice post and mostly agree. I’ve been listening/watching the Russia media response to this attack, and the initial burst of Russian indignation suggests that the Kremlin may be willing to call Washington’s bet and raise the stakes still further (i.e. use some of their high-tech weapons to bomb anti-Assad forces). Such a move will not only show Washington that the Kremlin is serious about protecting its butcher in Damascus, but more importantly, prove once again to Russia’s population that domestic protests are uncalled for in such perilous times, and likely the work of pro-American, 5th column traitors.

  2. The only proof of chem weapon use is by terrorists who have chem weapons and have not had them disposed of and have used them before several times in this conflict.

    Hmmm that is not suspicious unless you have a brain.

    Assad would not benefit at all from even having chem weapons… Russian support is rather more valuable than the potential for chemical weapons to kill their enemies.

    High explosive is just as effective at killing as chem weapons and is much easier to buy and use.

    Funny thing is that the claim by the US was that this base that was attacked was the source of the chem weapons yet there have been no reports of deaths to the chem weapons released in the attack and footage I have seen does not show those in the area wearing protective gear to keep them safe from leaking chem agents.

    Just proof that Americans love to kill… nothing new to see here…

    • Are you willingly blind? A Russian troll? Five minutes of research will provide considerable proof that Syrian forces used these weapons last week. Open your eyes.

      • Willingly blind?

        What evidence is there from an independent source?

        All we have are reports from the side that gains the most from blaming Assad.

        I know the kneejerk reaction of the west is execute first and then think later… that ended up in invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan… how did that work out exactly?

        Oh yes… no WMDs in Iraq and Osama Bin Laden was found and murdered… in Pakistan.

        My eyes are open, as is my mind.

        Trump said it was Americas national security that was at stake… perhaps Assad was within 45 minutes of launching a WMD strike on the US…

        If people weren’t getting murdered it would be funny.

      • Hey Ray, I am a russian Troll! You see, thats why a president should never take action on mere rumors. Thats why an UN investigation is necessary to find the culprits. Wouldn`t it be for the huge scare on part of the US about the results of such an investigation. As always before it would show the jihadists as the origin of all war crimes. As in Aleppo so in Idlib.
        Politics is a whore, he?

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