Mounting tensions between USA & Russia

By Faisal Amjad

US ambassador to United Nations Nikki Haley statement in UN Security Council, where she blatantly stated that the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world especially by the rouge regime of Bashar Al Asad in Syria will not be tolerated whatsoever. The statement was taken as a direct threat by Russians who believed it to be used as a pretext for preemptive strike against government forces in Syria.

There are considerable numbers of Russian Armed force personnel in the Damascus and its suburbs, fighting against the anti-government insurgents. Any onslaught against the government forces is likely to compromise the safety of Russians stationed alongside them which will not be tolerated, said top Russian Official. Back in April 2017, when President Trump authorized a Tomahawk Cruise Missile attack against Shayrat Base in Syria, Russia claimed that two of their military advisors have been killed as the result of 59 Tomahawks raining down at the base. The attack was justified as retaliation on part of helpless Syrians against whom an alleged chemical attack had been launched earlier that month by Syrian Air force using the same base. The Russians seem to be proactive this time, warning USA of dire consequences in case the course they took one year ago was repeated.

Russians are relying heavily on mercenaries rather than conventional and Special Forces to do the fighting in Syria. Though President Putin has repeatedly assured his people that every Russian life matters in the conflict zone, but there is no proper record of how many Russian contractors have lost their lives so far fighting against ISIS and rebels.

The presidential elections in Russia are just around the corner. Despite a struggling economy, President Vladimir Putin has been able to keep his approval ratings well above 80%, mostly because of the persona he carries which includes pictures of him doing scuba diving and driving a Formula 1 car.

However, this is not entirely why he has been so popular in his country. He has managed to keep the impression of nationalism fresh in the minds of his people. If Putin is to be believed, the invincible, nuclear-capable cruise missile which Russia has been successful to make, is not just Putin and Russia obsession with weapons or economy, but the shared notion of returning the country back to the glory once it rejoiced. Keeping in view all these contributing variables, it is most likely that Russians are not bluffing when they assert to retaliate in case of an assault putting the life of their servicemen in danger.

The ISIS surge had led both the countries, Russia and USA, to put their might in the air to use against a common foe. For better working relations, a communication mechanism had been devised so that the air strike can be coordinated against the Islamic State in a way which will not compromise the safety of both sides. But during the bombings, several times the worked out mechanism was said to have failed leading to face-offs. After the ISIS was neutralized, the airstrikes were directed toward rebel strongholds in urban areas of Syria. US vehemently opposed the strikes as they were causing huge loss of non-combatant lives and property.

US has also accused Assad regime of using Sarin gas against the common people which Russia, being the permanent member of UNSC, has vetoed many times in the security council. The argument put forward in doing so has been the lack of plausible reason as why would the government forces use such a weapon when they are already taking back the control of rebel strongholds by means of simple conventional warfare.

"It is a fact that chemical weapons have been used in the war, but the responsibility has always been deflected toward each other by both sides. One of the main reasons why it is difficult to comprehend the on ground realities in Syria is lack of multiple and authentic news sources within the country."

The existence of International Organizations to report the developments in Aleppo and Ghouta where most of the fighting took place, is practically none. They rely for information on Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, which consist of a single person called Rami Abdul Rehman. Interestingly, the person is not physically present in Syria himself but instead sits thousands of miles away in Coventry, United Kingdom. Another source which is heavily relied upon is White Helmets, but even they have a questionable reputation. White Helmets is a rescue organization founded in 2013 by James Le Mesurier, an ex-British military officer. They receive an annual funding of $100 million from USA, UK and other European countries.

They are the rescue providing service and have been working in Aleppo and Idlib for the past couple of years, yet they are unknown to most of the Syrians living there. The rescue missions they claim to have conducted have also been a subject of debate. For instance, a girl has been rescued at three different times in three different cities in a span of one year, according to photos released by them. White Helmets claim to be neutral, but pictures have surfaced on internet where they are seen to be carrying guns and standing over the dead body of Syrian soldiers. All the news outlets, which are reporting from Syria, are strengthening the narrative of their respective governments.

Pressure is mounting over the United States to curb the growing influence of Russia and Iran in Syria. Therefore, it should not be a surprise if US actually proceeds with the strikes. But Russians have categorically stated that such an attack would result in Russian missiles targeting the launching mechanism, be it US jets, Naval destroyer or Air craft carrier.

Pakistan, on the face of it might not have considerable role to play in the rising tensions between Russia and USA. However, there is a theater where the interests of all these states converge i.e. Afghanistan. USA has been engaged in Afghanistan since 2001. The rise of Islamic State in Afghanistan has raised Moscow eye brows which has resulted in Kremlin increased role in the war torn country.

Pakistan can act as a mediator between all the warring parties in Afghanistan and can also provide a framework for ending the Afghan war. Like the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) which included USA, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan can also initiate a new forum where Russia can also be added and a solution to the Afghan war can be achieved.

Coordination at this forum formed under the auspices of Pakistan can also give it enough influence to convince Russia and USA to solve their simmering issues which are not directly linked with Afghanistan. This has happened in the past as well. Pakistan played a major role in establishing diplomatic ties between communist China and USA in 1970. Taking that precedent into consideration, this possibility cannot be ruled out as well. Nation states must end their differences amicably and through dialogues before it too late. Both USA and Russia must end blame game and find ways to end their differences through dialogue. UNO and countries having no stakes in US-Russian enmity, such as Pakistan, can play a major role to end this animosity between two major powers of the world.