April 12, 2018 – Fort Russ –
By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold –
The two days that have passed since our last commentary on the situation around Syria have, alas, not added any optimism. Despite the absence of evidence from WTO specialists, Washington and the Western bloc continue to insist that Damascus is guilty of using chemical weapons. President Donald Trump has even compared the Syrian government to an “animal” enjoying the use of chemical weapons. I am unaware of any animal that has ever used chemical weapons, but Trump’s moral claims are dubious seeing as how he is the leader of the superpower which is the only state in history that has used nuclear weapons against civilians, as the US did in 1945 in Japan.
A confrontational scenario is increasingly likely. The US, and maybe its allies, will strike Syria. This scenario is not pre-ordained, and last-minute changes are possible. But the question of a US missile strike against Syrian territory can be considered closed – in the most optimal case, such a strike would be a “light” one and not result in considerable, tangible human and material losses.
President Trump has voiced a lot of big words, but this is not necessarily worse than the fact that his militaristic attitude is supported by many in American society, or at least the establishment. Rapidly losing its status as the only superpower and suffering defeat in its foreign policy war, the US needs like never before a symbolic victory in a symbolic war. The only problem is that the war in Syria, even if the US manipulates a symbolic victory out of it, would by no means be symbolic in terms of the price that Americans themselves would pay.
I admit, I am not a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs, nor am I a military expert. But I can take the opportunity to outline a model scenario based on my ideas about Russia’s capacity and interests as I understand them.
And so, how will Russia behave if a US strike on Syria turns out to be not only symbolic, but kills Russia’s allies and, even worse, Russian soldiers? I can say confidently that Russia will respond to any strike. It is no secret that the Russian establishment is infected with influential pro-American lobbies and numerous agents of influence. But if decision-making depended on this group of traitors, then Russia would have never come to aid Syria. Nor would it have returned Crimea and Sevastopol home. In this situation, the final decision will be taken by President Putin, who on March 1st warned the US that Russia has ultra-modern weapons at its disposal and jamming systems which, in the best case, would not leave America with any warm feelings.
A conflict with the US would inevitable provoke a shift within the Russian establishment, which would in turn lead to a fall in the liberals’ share of power (who are hated not only by their patriotic security bloc competitors, but also by nine-tenths of the Russian populations). This would entail a partial “re-privatization” whose victims would be the pro-Western oligarchs. For Russia, war would, no matter how paradoxically, open up a window of opportunity for liberating itself from liberalism and Westernism in the economy, education, and ideology. Without an external challenge or wake-up call, the task of liberating Russia from liberal captivity would be left unfulfilled.
Not being an expert on military matters, it is difficult for me to forecast the immediate course of combat in the Middle East. But I believe that the US and its allies’ positions are indisputably stronger than those of Russia, Syria, and Iran (with Turkey’s potential behavior unclear and neutral at best).
Therefore, in my opinion, Russia should beat the Americans in the spheres and regions where Russia wields undoubted superiority.
First and foremost, this means in Ukraine. The illegitimate and criminal Poroshenko regime in Kiev has crossed all conceivable boundaries and is taking advantage of the prevailing conditions that have been left unfavorable for Russia. If things reach the point of a Russia-US military clash in Syria, then Ukraine’s existence can be forgotten about, at least in its current borders. Moscow would cease to restrain the impulse of the Donbass militias, the core of which is made up of people from the territories occupied by Kiev who are eager to go on an offensive – which Russia would help with people and weapons.
In fact, I do not even rule out the direct participation by Russian Armed Forces in liberating the former Ukraine from the pro-American occupation regime. Plus, the legal Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, has already officially called on Vladimir Putin to deploy Russian troops to stop the civil war in Ukraine. While I have no sympathy for Yanukovych’s personality or actions, I want to remind readers that he remains the only legal head of the Ukrainian state. If I were in Yanukovych and other exiled representatives of the Ukrainian political leadership’s place, I would urgently organize a government and parliament in exile and appeal to the people of Ukraine to refuse to carry out the orders of the criminal, illegitimate Kiev regime.
In military terms, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are a colossus with feet of clay. According to information at my disposal, no less than four-fifths (perhaps even nine-tenths) of the Ukrainian Army is not ready to fight, and would surrender or desert after the first strikes by the DPR and LPR. If Russia’s Armed Forces joined in the fight, the Ukrainian Army as a whole would cease to exist within a few days. Then things would drift in the direction of guerrilla war, which would be handled not by Russian troops, but by local militias.
US and NATO troops would have little with which to oppose the triumphant liberation march of Donbass and Russia. The several hundred American and NATO officers (advisers, instructors, and saboteurs) complicit in the crimes of the Ukrainian “government” against the people of Donbass would be destroyed or kicked out. And the US naval base under construction in Ochakov would be handed over to the Federal Republic of Novorossiya. And so on.
Russia’s main trophy in a confrontation with the US would be the NATO contingents in the Baltic countries. NATO’s reinforcements in Poland and the Baltic (which Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last week number around 10,000) would be rolled over like a knife through butter. Iskander-M missile strikes would destroy US missile defense systems in Romania and Poland.
The US boasts a substantial advantage over Russia in air and naval forces. But Russia leads in land forces, and is capable of defending its borders from any aggressor’s attack. For this reason, for Russia, war in Syria would be a secondary sector of a global front. The main front would be Europe. This would allow Russia to not only deal painful retaliatory strikes to the American aggressors, but also push the North Atlantic Alliance’s frontline away from Russia’s borders.
No less essential, however, is getting rid of Russia’s doctrinal dependence on the West. Coincidentally or not, the other day Putin’s aide Vladislav Surkov released an article, the main motive of which is rejecting Westernization and transitioning to autarky. It is a pity that it took so long for this author to reach this simple truth, but better late than never.
What’s more, yesterday the well-known State Duma deputy, Evgeny Fedorov, openly stated that the Ukrainian government is criminal, governed by interventionists, and called it inevitable that Ukrainian statehood will be restored. A little less than a year ago, in an article for Fort Russ I said that Ukrainian statehood must either be re-established in some form, or dissolve. For us, however, there is no restoration of a “Ukraine without Nazis” in sight. But the regions of the former Ukraine, and not a bunch of politicians in Moscow or Kiev, should decide this issue.
Not all the possible problems and lines of confrontation that could take on a global scope and come close to the threshold of atomic war have been touched upon here. The main point is that Russia has been and remains the only state capable of destroying the United States if things ever reach the point of a nuclear conflict. It is unlikely that the American establishment would take such a suicidal step no matter how great the temptation might be to commit to a nuclear strike on Russia.
All of these considerations of ours concern a turn in the situation towards one of the worst scenarios. But while preparing for the worst, let us hope for the best.
Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation.