Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Are Russia and the United States at War?

I’m talking more than a war of words or the “New Cold War” epithet that journalists are using these days. I’m talking about shooting wars, proxies for the now, but likely to escalate in areas as diverse as Syria and the Arctic. Beyond Crimea and Ukraine. As Russia’s President Putin sidles up to Bashir Assad (above) and his repressive regime in Syria, promising that plagued Arab leader new and improved air support and other military technology in Damascus’ dual battles against both ISIS and Syrian Sunni rebels, the United States is clearly beyond agitated. Time seemed right for a notion of Russia’s and Syria’s using the world’s ISIS threat as a distraction to allow massive Russian reinforcement of the Assad regime. Nasty. Communications between Washington and Moscow proved fruitless, as the Obama administration warned the Russians against escalating their support for the rogue Assad
But to get new modern jets into Syria, Russia has requested the right to use regional airspace to transport its military transports and new jets to its local dictator in Damascus. They know Turkey, which is completely focused on taking down Shiite Assad in a mostly Sunni country, will say no, so they have turned to Greece instead.
“The United States has asked Greece to deny Russia the use of its airspace for supply flights to Syria, a Greek official said on Monday, after Washington told Moscow it was deeply concerned by reports of a Russian military build up in Syria.
“The Greek foreign ministry said the request was being examined. Russian newswire RIA Novosti earlier said Greece had refused the U.S. request, quoting a diplomatic source as saying that Russia was seeking permission to run the flights up to Sept. 24.
“Russia, which has a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartous, has sent regular flights to Latakia, which it has also used to bring home Russian nationals who want to leave.
“U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Saturday that if reports of the build-up were accurate, that could further escalate the war and risk confrontation with the U.S.-led alliance that is bombing Islamic State in Syria.” Reuters, September 7th.
The U.S. is training rebels, albeit so far not able to recruit more than a shameful handful (54) to topple Assad. We’re on one side. Russians on the other. Who knows if those jets are delivered if there will be Russian or Syrian pilots flying those machines, all in the same theater of operations where allied planes are attacking ISIS in the same airspace. What could go wrong?
“‘We have always supplied equipment to them for their struggle against terrorists,’ Maria V. Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said in an interview. ‘We are supporting them, we were supporting them and we will be supporting them’ in that fight… The sharp exchanges over Russian military aid to the Syrian government appeared to have dampened a brief spirit of cooperation, starting in early August, when Russia, the United States and Saudi Arabia agreed on a renewed effort to reach a political solution to the Syria crisis.
“Some analysts see any possible Russian move to strengthen military aid now as a maneuver by President Vladimir V. Putin to embarrass the United States.” New York Times, September 7th. Yup, what could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, back at the ice pack, global warming is opening up the Northwest Passage and facilitating access to Arctic resources like never before. As I pointed out in my recent blog, Cold Polarization, Russia is not only staking claims to a good portion of this entire region, including the outcroppings under the North Pole itself but building a substantial fleet of very large and uniquely capable ice breakers, ships well beyond the capability of any other nation on earth, including the United States and its Arctic allies… combined. Both the United States and Russia have been conducting military fleet operations in the area around the Bering Straits. Even Chinese military vessels have crossed into U.S. waters during recent exercises in the area.
Russia can no longer compete head-to-head in a serious conflict with the United States, but Russia also knows that, despite right-wing hawks to the contrary, America’s will to fight has dwindled even as her military capacity still consumes over 40% of the entire world’s military budget. So whether it is via proxy wars, sharp jabs in Crimea and Ukraine with limited meaningful response by the United States and its NATO allies or supporting a brutal Syrian dictator for a battle of surrogates, or perhaps by severe saber-rattling in Arctic areas where specialized weapon-systems present an intimidating show of force, Russia wants the United States to know that Vladimir Putin’s agenda will continue to remain our nemesis for the foreseeable future.
But as Russia’s economic fortunes dwindle, with oil prices hovering around recent record lows, how long Putin’s popularity with the masses will allow him free rein is open to debate. He’s still got that support, but a rapidly declining standard of living in the Motherland will, sooner or later, demand that the piper be paid. Will Putin’s bravado, standing up to the big evil United States, buy more popular support or will there come a time which his machismo just doesn’t work anymore? And how many real bullets will fly from such efforts in the meantime?

I’m Peter Dekom, and lust for power and the desire never to let it go once possessed are a dangerous combination that have seldom served mankind well.

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