April 13, 2018

The USA-Russia Confrontation Over Syria as a Possible Prologue to a Third World War

Reasons and Consequences

Moscow's turning to an open confrontation with the West, which was announced by V. Putin in his message to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation on March 1, on the eve of the presidential election in the country, causes qualitatively new changes in the nature of the confrontation between Russia and the United States, NATO and the EU. First of all, it concerns the emergence of a real threat of an armed conflict between the parties of a regional or world levels.

The reason for such a situation was Kremlin's demonstration of the determination of its intentions to lead a tough confrontational course against its Western opponents. In particular, this was meant by the poisoning by Russian special services of a former officer of the Russian GRU S. Skrypal on March 4, in the British city of Salisbury, as well as Russia's support for the Assad regime's use of chemical weapon against the peaceful population of Eastern Ghouta on April 6, 2018.

In response, the United States and leading NATO and EU countries have also moved to a tightening the policy towards the Russian Federation and enhanced pressure on it in the political and economic spheres. In this regard, the most headline-making were the massive deportation of Russian spy-diplomats from western countries in March of this year and introduction of personal sanctions against a number of Russian oligarchs from V. Putin's environment, which led to the collapse of the Russian stock market on April 9, 2018, and their losing about 17 billion US dollars.

At the same time, the USA has increased pressure on Russia in the military sphere as well. Thus, because of Moscow's rejecting the US draft resolution of the UN Security Council on the creation of a new mechanism for investigating chemical attacks in Syria, the United States began preparations for the possibility of strikes on troops of B. Assad, despite Russia's supporting him. At this, the Russian side threatened not only to shoot down US missiles over Syria, but to destroy the means of launching them (i.e., to strike on American ships and bases in the Mediterranean region). In this way, the United States also showed Russia firm intentions to curb its neo-imperial policy by all possible means, including with the use of military force. The USA's ability to do so was demonstrated back in February 2018 by the crushing defeat of the battalion tactical group of Russian mercenaries in Syria, which, by the way, showed the absolute superiority of American military technologies.

Military operation “Odyssey Dawn” against the regime of M. Gaddafi in Libya in 2011
Military operation “Odyssey Dawn” against the regime of M. Gaddafi in Libya in 2011

The USA's preparing for possible military actions against the regime of B. Assad is carried out according to a scheme similar to the military operation “Odyssey Dawn” against the regime of M. Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, taking into account the peculiarities of the current situation, namely, Russia's direct participation in Syrian conflict on the side of the country's government. Consequently, preparatory measures include concentration of American troops in the region, readiness to use all components of the United States Armed Forces, including missile and nuclear means, and involving its NATO Allies and other partners.

The core of the US Armed Forces grouping directly in the Syrian region is to be the carrier strike group of the US Navy, led by the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, which includes a guided-missile cruiser (Aegis-equipped), four guided-missile destroyers and at least two submarines with cruise missiles on board. In addition, in the area of Syria already there is an American guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook. Due to this, the United States will have about 60 strike ship-based aircrafts and up to 450 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Strategic aviation from air bases in the continental United States, the Anderson Air Base on Guam Island in the western Pacific, and Fairford and Mildenhall air bases in the UK may also be involved in air strikes in Syria.

At the same time, the war time command system of the United States Armed Forces is being deployed. For example, since April 10, regular flights of the E-4B aircraft (the so-called “Doomsday plane”) — the air command post of the President, Defense Secretary and other members of the top military-political leadership of the United States in case of a nuclear war. In the air above the continental part of the United States, there are also four E-6B command and control aircrafts (to provide stable communication between the top commanders of the US Armed Forces and strategic and conventional forces). The aircrafts can serve as the National Airborne Operations Centre of the United States Strategic Command to control nuclear forces in case of the destruction of the Air Combat Command at the Offutt Air Base.

The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group departed Naval Station Norfolk

Besides, the United States has significantly intensified air reconnaissance in the Mediterranean (first of all of Syria), the Baltic and Black Sea regions, as well as in the western Pacific. Thus, in the airspace over the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea near the Syria coast, the US Navy's Poseidon R-8A intelligence aircrafts from the Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily are on regular patrol. From the same base, the Poseidon R-8As and reconnaissance RQ-4 Global Hawks fly over the Black Sea. At the same time, one of the NATO’s E-3 Sentry (AWACS) aircraft is constantly patrolled in the airspace of Turkey. In turn, the intelligence of the Baltic region, including Kaliningrad region of the RF, is carried out by aircrafts of technical intelligence RC-135V Rivet Joint from the Mildenhall Air Base in the UK. Along with this, in the Far East, RC-135V Rivet Joint aircraft work from airbases on the US West Coast.

The United States is paying special attention to the creation of an international coalition (consisting first of all of the NATO Allies) against B. Assad's regime in Syria. Negotiations on this issue are held with Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey and other Allies. The United States has already been supported by the United Kingdom, which has sent towards Syria two submarines with cruise missiles and type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan of the Royal Navy. British aircrafts from the Akrotiri Air Base in Cyprus may also take part in the operation. April 12, 2018, Raytheon Sentinel R1 (ASTOR) reconnaissance aircraft of the Royal Air Force was sent to that airbase. During his visit to Turkey, NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg on April 16, 2018 is going to discuss the possibility of using the Turkish Air Base of Incirlik for the operation against Syria.

Based on the available forces and means, as well as the possibility of their build-up at the expense of the Allied military resources, the United States can conduct either a limited missile attack on troops and other objects of the Assad regime in Syria, or a larger-scale air-offensive operation of medium or high intensity. At this, a limited strike can be carried out at any time (including during the next 24 hours) by the US President's political decision. In turn, preparing a larger-scale operation will take from one–two weeks to a month.

In view of the possibility of the USA's military actions against Syria, the leadership of the Russian Federation is taking its own preparatory measures to respond adequately. Thus, since April 10, 2018, Russian troops in Syria, as well as air defense systems and strike components of the Russian Armed Forces, including their missile and nuclear component, have been alerted.

Besides, on April 11, 2018, the RF Navy's ships were withdrawn from the Tartus Naval Base in Syria and took up combat positions in the Mediterranean Sea. On the same day, naval trainings began near Nikosia in the Eastern Mediterranean.

According to some reports, there are plans for deploying Tu-22M3 and Tu-95 of the long-range (bomber) aviation of the Russian VKS at the advanced airbases of Mozdok in North Ossetia (was used to provide air strikes on the territory of Syria) and of Hamadan in Iran.

In fact, Russia has taken under its protection the Syrian Air Force, which redeployed to the Russian air base Khmeimim in Syria. B. Assad Army's units are also moving to Russian bases and other objects.

All this is accompanied by an aggressive rhetoric of Russian politicians and media threatening with the use of military force against the United States in case of its “attack on Syria”.

Deployment of the US Navy Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group for the operations in Syria

All this actually puts the United States and Russia into a “stalemate” situation. Thus, on the one hand, practical realization by the parties of mutual threats would inevitably lead to an armed conflict between them, and on the other hand, abandoning the threats without good reason would cause significant reputational losses to the leadership of both countries. Proceeding from this, the most likely options for further actions by Washington and Moscow may be as follows:

  • first — reaching a mutually beneficial compromise on the Syrian issue, which could be a valid justification for the parties' decision to refrain from force. The subject of such a compromise was defined by D. Trump in his statement on Twitter on April 11, 2018, namely, restoration of a constructive dialogue between the two countries in case of Moscow's agreeing to the parties' returning to the process of disarmament. Given the political statements by the US President, he can also mitigate sanctions against Russia. However, the possibility of “exchanging” Syria for Ukraine is completely out of the question, as it is fundamentally unacceptable for the United States;
  • second — repetition of the situation of March 2017, when Russia confined itself to condemning the United States for launching a missile strike on the military base of the Syrian Armed Forces in response to the Assad regime's using chemical weapons against the opposition. However, unlike last year, the Russian side could use its air defense to intercept US missiles without attacking US military bases, warships and aircrafts. At this such actions would be presented by Russia as a “full-scale counteracting the USA's aggression”;
  • third — a local armed conflict between Russia and the United States, where both sides would confine themselves to military actions of medium intensity in and around Syria, including air and sea battles, clashes between mercenary units and regular troops, and mutual attacks on military bases. In fact, it would be an analogue of hostilities between the USSR and the USA during the Korean War of 1950–1953 and the Vietnam War of 1965–1975;
  • fourth — turning of the Russian-American conflict around Syria into a full-scale war between Russia and the United States and NATO. The mechanism of such a development would include a military confrontation between the parties in the Black Sea and Baltic regions, as well as in the Far East, which would end in mutual use of missile and nuclear weapons. Such scenarios were already practiced during military exercises of Russia and the USA and NATO, which have gained special intensity since 2018.

Scenarios for the development of the conflict over Syria: war between Russia and the United States. Publication of 2016 in Russian

Of course, each of these options would in one way or another affect Ukraine, ranging from Russia's attempts to really “exchange” it for Syria, and ending with the inevitability of our country's involvement in the military conflict between Russia and the United States and NATO. In particular, the evidence of this is the intensification of armed provocations of Russian-terrorist troops in the Donbas since the beginning of April 2018, despite the so-called “Easter Armistice”.

It is hard to tell in what the confrontation between Russia and the United States and their allies around Syria will actually end. However, we need to be prepared for any scenario.