A Free Syrian Army fighter carries his weapon as he and fellow fighters escort a convoy of U.N. vehicles carrying a team of United Nations chemical weapons experts at one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus' suburbs of Zamalka, on August 28, 2013. Source: Reuters / Bassam Khabieh
The U.S. and its allies are likely to start bombing targets in Syria in the near future. Russian experts believe the real goal is not to destroy the country’s chemical potential but to reduce the combat capability of the government army and secure the victory for the armed opposition.
They also point out that Moscow will have little time to help Damascus with weapons and should focus on diplomatic support, instead.
"This military action will resemble the El Dorado Canyon operation against Muammar Gaddafi in 1986 — not a very long one, not a very costly one," Sergei Demidenko, an expert at the Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis in Moscow, says in prediction. He is confident that the West will not drag out the air campaign, and it will not start an expensive ground invasion in Syria, either.
According to Demidenko, the United States does not want to intervene in the Syrian conflict — this is not their war. The U.S. is being drawn into the conflict by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. For these countries, the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime has become a matter of principle, though they are unable to achieve it on their own.
The question arises: What will happen to targets in Syria that produce and store chemical weapons, if the claimed purpose of the military operation in Syria is the prevention of any further use of these weapons?
"What is at issue here is not the bombing of locations for the storage or production of chemical weapons. If an airstrike is applied on some storage of chemical weapons, you can obtain a result that would be a lot worse than what it was during the recent attack near Damascus," says Andrei Baklitsky, an expert at the PIR Center. He contends that airstrikes would be applied on sites belonging to the armed forces — command posts and communication lines.
Sergei Markov, a political analyst, also believes that Western armies will fight in Syria, in part as mercenaries of Arab monarchies.
"We have a generally accepted view that the U.S. is acting in Syria through the hands of the U.K. and France; but it seems to me that everything is exactly the opposite. It is rather Paris and London who are the leaders, and Washington is following them — and with some resistance,” the analyst says.
“The situation is similar to Libya's. However, in Libya, France at least had a mercantile interest (to gain control over the oil fields), whereas, in the Syrian situation, I think it is the banal bribing of the British and French governments by the Saudis and Qataris. And the money is being given at the government level in the form of contracts, as well as at the personal level,” says Markov.
In this case, the West in Syria, in the pursuit of tactical advantages, is committing huge strategic mistakes, according to Markov. "Unfortunately, we are forced to live in a world where chaos grows strong, and so does the use of military force," the analyst says. "Our partners in Washington, London and Paris are committing gross blunders and acting against their own interests."
"What did the U.S. win from the war in Iraq? Nothing. What did they win from the overthrow of Mubarak? Loss, nothing else. How did they benefit from the overthrow of Gaddafi? Is it the fact that they tore their ambassador to pieces?" says Markov.
In these circumstances, the question arises: What can Moscow do in the days and weeks remaining before the intervention? Experts believe that the only option available on the diplomatic and public relations front is to continue the previous policy of appealing not so much to governments as to Western public opinion.
"Russia needs to focus on the mission of the U.N. inspectors. It is the results of their work that will either give grounds for a military strike against Syria or an opportunity to raise a voice in protest," says Markov.
"Secondly, we must conduct an intensive campaign among the world public opinion, because a bloated majority of people of the West are misinformed: They are being told over and over again that Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons. We should write and say that this was an obvious provocation, and that it was the opposition who committed the chemical attack," the expert says.
Some Russian politicians believe that Moscow should limit itself to diplomatic efforts. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, for example, has called for urgent and massive arms supplies to Syria.
Indeed, an extra supply of anti-ship missiles and air defense systems could theoretically delay or even thwart the attack on Syria. Russia could strengthen Yakhont anti-ship missile systems already delivered to Syria, which have a destruction range of about 250 miles and can hinder actions of the navy of the allies.
As for additional air defense systems, experts believe that the Syrians simply do not have time to deploy them before the attack, whereas the use of Russian military personnel to this end would mean entering the conflict on the side of Damascus. Moreover, any urgent supplies of arms would lead to a further deterioration of relations with the West.
However, as long as the bombing has not begun, there is hope that common sense will prevail. U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have yet to obtain consent from their legislatures. At the forthcoming summit in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin is likely to make a final attempt to explain to the "friends of Syria" how dangerous their plans are.
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