Russia and the United States need to reopen normal channels of communication so that their mutual increase in military tension and threats can stop. They are approaching their most direct conflict in decades with very little preparation or consideration. Both sides are making serious threats and the unfortunate people of Syria, and Aleppo in particular, are the victims in this disastrous proxy war that should not have been happening at all. It is dangerous that the US is considering a “range” of proportional responses to alleged Russian hacking of US political groups and that US President Barack Obama should go so far as to convene the National Security Council yesterday to consider military and other options in Syria, which could include direct air strikes on Syrian bases, munitions depots, radar and anti-aircraft sites. Even if these tactics are not used immediately, the fact they are on the table is a major escalation.
The Russian side has already moved to increase the military tension. It has been party to the pounding of Aleppo with bombs that have flattened large parts of the city, killing many civilians. Moscow has also abruptly discontinued a nuclear security pact dating back to the end of the Cold War, citing US aggression. Moreover, Russia has moved its nuclear-capable Iskandar missiles to the edge of Nato territory in Europe, as its officials have openly raised the possible use of nuclear weapons.
In addition, Washington has publicly accused the Kremlin of cyberattacks on American election systems. These accusations came after the talks on a potential ceasefire in Syria broke down and after US officials suggested that Russia should be investigated for war crimes over its treatment of the besieged city of Aleppo. There is no doubt that Russia is using the Syrian civil war for its own purposes to give itself a larger world role. President Vladimir Putin has a strategy to put Russia back as one of the global powers. This is why he has intervened so forcefully to support Syrian President Bashar Al Assad as he seeks to limit America’s global leadership role and curb what he sees as an American inclination for “regime change” in Syria.
The situation in Syria is so confusing that there is no good outcome in the immediate future. All sides now need to work to reduce tension, rather than deliberately stoke the fires of hatred and violence.