10 Apr 2017

Are We Heading to a New Cold War?

Donald Trump’s missile attack didn’t help the devastating situation in Syria but certainly stirred the pot of international politics. His move was supported by almost the entire world, including Saudi Arabia. The only two countries which saw the bombing of the Syrian base as “violation of international law” was Russia and Iran. Just a few hours after the attacks, the spokesman of the Russian ministry of defense Igor Konashenkov stated that the 2015’s memorandum of understanding, while operating in the air of Syria, and signed by the defense forces of the two countries is in no validation anymore. And also Dmitrii Peskov, spokesman of President Putin, qualified the missile strike as a “great violation of the memorandum” and announced that Russia is suspending obligations towards it. This brought the U.S.-Russia relations to a freezing point, much like it was during the Cold War. According to political analysts from both sides, such a development is upsetting but not highly surprising. The missing point in the 2015 memorandum was coordination. Both sides refused to share information about their military actions in the region and this always “would bring a risk in high level”, Fjodr Lukanov, a leading foreign policy analyst commented.

Russia is heading towards a “complete international ostracisation” unless Putin removes his support for the Assad regime, the British Foreign minister Boris Johnson said this morning. His words came as a reaction against Russia’s harsh statement after he pulled out of a planned visit to Moscow in the weekend. Mr. Johnson agreed to cancel his journey following a consultation with the US. His move, according to the Russians, “once again confirms doubts about the added value of dialogue with the British, who don’t have their own position on the majority of current issues,” and also “no real influence on the course of international affairs, remaining ‘in the shadow’ of their strategic partners”.

Were those the words of a wounded beast which in the face of loss is desperately trying to get back on its feet?  This is yet to be seen. The lack of a straight military response from Russia after Trump’s attack shows that Kremlin has some doubts towards the accusation of Bashar al-Assad using gas, despite their official statement. It also shows that Putin wasn’t expecting such action from Trump, whose admission in the White house was originally highly celebrated in Moscow. One of the most influential Russian political analysts, Andrey Kolesnikov, commented on the situation for RBK, a Russian news website, stating that “Trump is already not ‘ours’” and “The head of the American state on whom such hopes were placed, in fact, betrayed our interests, the interests of establishing a new model of the world order.”

The confusion in Moscow is increasing as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be visiting soon. He is due to visit Kremlin in a day, just after the G7 foreign ministers meet in Italy. The ministers already declared that they are calling on Russia to drop the support to Assad’s regime or new sanctions will follow. Mr. Tillerson himself was very critical a few days ago saying “Clearly Russia has failed in its responsibility. Either Russia has been complicit or either Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement.” Kremlin didn’t respond to his comments, but is hard to believe they were taken easily. It is expected that the two days’ visit will mark the road towards a new Cold War and, perhaps, more military clashes between the two countries or it will work towards warming up the relation in the spirit of Trump-Putin’s conversations from 3rd of April. It’s hard to believe that only a week ago, the two presidents were in direct communication, just after the suicide-bomb attack in the St. Petersburg metro, and have agreed on applying more combined efforts against terrorism.

According to international analysts, including Russian ones, the best way out of the crisis will be by forming an international commission to investigate the Khan Sheikhoun’s incident and if Bashar al-Assad’s involvement is confirmed – then Russia will have no other choice but to support the UN initiative against the Syrian dictator.