Written by Dmitry Yevstafiev; Originally appeared at Eurasia.expert, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
A military confrontation between Russia and the USA so far looks like an unlikely option. However some events can already be interpreted as preparing public opinion for direct military confrontation with Russia in the local theater of operations. On October 13 the British Foreign Secretary urged to consider “military options” to solve the Syrian question.
Autumn 2016 brought a number of strange events, starting with the American hoax of the alleged Russian bombing campaign of the UN humanitarian convoy to Aleppo and ending with the very dangerous situation with manoeuvres of the Ukrainian passenger airplane in the skies over Syria. Too many of the latest news flashes around the “genocide of civilians in Aleppo” remind us of the “bombardment of the Sarajevo market” in April 1995, after which began the bombardment of the former Yugoslavia.
Reasons for a Possible Military Confrontation Between the USA and Russia
The situation demonstrates the political and psychological readiness of the West of bringing the confrontation into the open. Moreover, the top leadership of the West may fully be simply drawn into the flow of events organised by “activists in the field”. Strong signs of the weakening of control of the USA administration over security forces and “partners” abound. Or convincingly pretends that events develop without its knowledge. Not to mention the attempts of some state departments of the USA to play along Hillary Clinton during the elections, “warming” the tension.
Such a situation is not the result of a “personality defect” or accident. The situation was the product of “fusion” of all that existed after the Second Word War, and especially after the Indochina war – American political culture and habits of colonial methods of conducting military conflicts, which were formulated in the last 30 years, probably since the intervention in Grenada in 1983. It is a long-term behavioural phenomenon, unfortunately, that cannot be “stopped” on the politico-propaganda level alone.
The reasons for the attractiveness of Syria as a platform for a military confrontation between Russia and the West are simple: considering that due to the lack of serious Russian interests in Syria, the confrontation can be kept within the local theatre of military actions and create a forceful phase as short as possible.
Thus achieving if not a defeat of the Russian contingent, which may be tied with risks of uncontrolled reactions from the Kremlin, then certainly the consent of Moscow for its evacuation without political conditions. This is the “minimum programme”. After its launch it will be possible to convert the situation into the American favourite format of “political bargaining”, recommending to Moscow to “sacrifice the small” for the sake of more.
The American elite and its advisory institutions for national security absolutely do not understand that Russia has long seen Syria as part of the “big picture” and the critical test for herself is the right to save her status as a “great power”.
Russia views the situation in Syria as a situation not only with big “stakes” but as with very big ones. It is possible these stakes for the Russian leadership are even bigger than “stakes” arising in the situation around Crimea.
Washington’s Strategic Calculations
There are, however, two distinctive features of the current situation in the Russian and American relations, one of which in the West is recognised, and the second, presumably not.
Firstly, and it is well understood in the USA that Russia has the capability for escalating the conflict in any region. The USA regards this as a risk, however it believes that Russia will decide on an escalation only on already developed areas which, if speaking cynically, for the USA appears to be quite “comfortable”: Black Sea region, the Ukraine and, arguably, with a maximum escalation of the situation, the Baltic region, which is also “not pitied”. The opportunity for Russia to “go beyond the flags” the Americans do not even consider.
Secondly, the USA believes that Russian public opinion shaped by mass media and by the elite through propaganda, is unstable and will easily “break” after the first powerful blow, after which one will be able to proceed to the collapse of the elite consensus, whose appearance for Washington was an unpleasant reality.
The West cannot conceive that Russian public opinion determines the behaviour of the elite; this idea seems absolutely “wild”.
Here, probably lies the reason for strange actions on a regular basis by the West against Russian society. For example, the recent “Address to the people of Russia” by the Secretary of State of the USA John Kerry or George Soros.
The military strategy of the USA is extremely simple: through a provocative incident or series of incidents create legitimate grounds through propaganda to use against Russia’s security apparatus in the desired context at the local level, in order to create favourable conditions for political manipulation in relations with friendly or potentially friendly groups in Russia’s elite.
That’s all. The USA believes that the Russian elite, fearful of even limited use of force in a remote theater, will become an acceptable tool for the solution of political goals. It only needs to be prodded in the “right direction”.
The American power politics in relation with Russia do not envisage any kind of military victory even “on points”. It will be enough for Washington to “declare a victory” and Moscow’s unwillingness for further confrontation at the given level.
The “Explosive Escalation” Instead of “Steps of Escalation”
It should be noted that this kind of scenario is quite feasible without any transfer of the American economy and politics to the “emergency situation” mode. One can do without even hard measures in the economic sphere, which can boomerang and hit the Western economies.
The military potential in “peace time” of the USA is sufficient to conduct, at least one local military operation. The rest will be worked out through information domination and influence of the USA in international institutions and manipulations of allies. Here the USA has no equal.
One should proceed from the fact that for the USA it is absolutely not necessary to follow the classic “steps of escalation”. It is fully capable of implementing a single “explosive escalation”.
Especially considering the fact that Washington proceeds from Moscow’s limited purpose in a so-called “system of confrontation”, as well as its full spectrum domination in military matters.
In this format the “power plays” will cease to look insane and unrealistic, especially given the atmosphere of omnipotence, typical of a bureaucracy, of a “sole superpower”.
Neither looks incredible nor are the possible developments of this “local” scenario. After the ousting of Russia from Syria and the collapse of the Assad regime, is seems quite natural to release the “energy” of Islamic radicalism in a North-western direction and political manipulation, aimed at undermining the stability of power in the Kremlin. Such a “maximum programme” of course, can be supplemented by some peripheral action (for example, the Donbas), but this is entirely optional.
For something more complicated, the USA has neither the time nor the resources. But there is enough of this to deprive Moscow and her allies (first Iran, and now, with all the “flexibility” of local leaders, and Turkey) any possibilities of manoeuvres, not for a few years but for decades.
Paths to reducing threats
Two conclusions are worth mentioning from the emerging military-political situation.
On the one hand, the USA allows for a local military conflict with Russia, which according to it should happen then and there, when it decides. And, apparently, this “when” lies in the period between the presidential election, regardless of who will win, and the swearing in of the new president to the office.
This “window of military possibilities” would be quite right to close with serious political measures in the sphere of collective defence and security with the participation of the widest range of participants.
Even if some of them appear not so much as allies of Russia but as her “fellow travelers”. And never mind if these measures for the most part would be propaganda.
But on the other hand, if the development of the situation will cease to respond to scenarios of manageability and locality, it will lead to failures in the control of Washington’s allies, and then the scenario of a military resolution can be rolled up on almost any stage of development.
And this would be the first case in the past 25 years when Russian “containment” of the USA would work.
This will set a precedent, which in the future might become a full-fledged base for strategic stability. But for this Russia, and her allies, who are few, and her “companions”, who are many, should go beyond the scenario of confrontation, which a part of the ruling elite of the USA offers them.
In this sense, the “game”, is definitely worth it.
Dmitry Yevstafiev, Professor, NRU, Higher School of Economics