Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has signaled a dire warning to the US and its western allies. He stated that if these countries do not refrain from taking military action in Syria, then he would not “exclude war” between America and Russia.
United States and its allies have threatened to strike the Assad regime in Syria in response to the alleged chemical attack that took place in April 2018.
The end of Cold War and the dissolution of Soviet Union (as well as the creation of Russia) in 1989 seemingly brought an end the long standing Russia-US geopolitical rivalry. There was a brief thaw in the relationship during the tenure of Russia's President Boris Yeltsin but it took a significant step back under Putin.
Relations between Russia and the US deteriorated in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. It cited a controversial referendum for doing so. As a result, Barack Obama and his EU allies unveiled a coordinated set of sanctions against Russia and ordered it to leave Crimea. Russia responded with counter-sanctions.
Russia’s alleged interference in the US Presidential elections has further caused tensions in the ties. Despite Russia’s repeated denials on this issue, the US imposed harsh sanctions on Russia. Both countries have expelled hundreds of diplomats from its soil.
Ties between Russia and the Western democracies have also deteriorated in the recent years. The UK has accused Russia of orchestrating an attack on a former Russian spy in Britain and has threatened retaliation. The UK has also accused Russia of interfering with elections.
The Syrian development
The Syrian government has often been accused of conducting chemical warfare against its own citizens in rebel regions. In April 2017, news emerged of an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held Syrian town. At least 74 people, including 11 children, were killed in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province. The nation has been in the midst of a civil war since 2011.
US President Donald Trump has threatened to take military action against Syria and has taken to Twitter to warn Russia of the same. UK has also agreed to join in any of the action that the US may undertake as a response for the chemical attack. Prime Minister Theresa May won the backing of her cabinet on the need to “take action” to prevent the use of such weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. French President Macron has also signaled his willingness.
President Trump tweeted that a missile strike would be an inevitability. “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
However, a day later, he toned down his response noting that he never said that it would be soon. He tweeted, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
On the other hand, Russia has made its intentions crystal clear – any strike in Syria would be a red line and the first possible step towards all-out war. The nation threatened to strike down any US missiles coming Syria’s way. Russia has taken an aggressive stance and has promised to respond. "If there is a strike by the Americans, then we refer to the statements of President [Vladimir] Putin and the chief of staff that the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired," Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin told Hezbollah's al-Manar TV.
Now, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has beseeched western allies against taking any military action. He stated that if these countries do not refrain from taking military action in Syria, then he would not “exclude war” between America and Russia. "The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war," he told reporters. "We hope there will be no point of no return."
When asked if he was referring to a war between the United States and Russia, he said, "We cannot exclude any possibilities, unfortunately, because we saw messages that are coming from Washington. They were very bellicose."
Syria for its part has maintained that it wasn’t involved in any chemical attack. In fact, the nation has welcomed investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to enter the region. Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters on Thursday, "We're ready to escort them to where they want, whenever they want, anytime they want. Any delay or disruption in the visit will be a result of the political pressure exercised on the OPCW from a very well-known state, as the Syrian government expressed its readiness to facilitate this visit.”
Our assessment is that the latest development shows that Russia is willing to take an aggressive stance against the United States and its allies. It is US President Donald Trump who has had to temper down his threats in the recent days. After warning Russia to watch out for missiles, he took to his Twitter account to note that these strikes may not happen for a long time. If the United States and its western allies back down from their threat, then the Kremlin would be seen to have managed the threat better. However, we believe that it is extremely important to prevent a conflict between US and Russia – two of the largest military powers in the world. We also believe it to be prudent to wait for investigators to provide a detailed report in the matter before conflicting parties take any further action.