Protecting Russia’s Allies

Putin’s warning reflects worries that Trump is about to commit a military folly

 By Abdel Bari Atwan

In his speech on Thursday at a Moscow conference hall attended by the Russian political and military elite, President Vladimir Putin unveiled a selection of newly-developed nuclear-capable ballistic weapons which he said could reach any part of the world without being intercepted.

More importantly, in our view, the Russian president declared — as he displayed an animated videotape of these new missiles on a giant screen – that Russia ‘would consider the use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies as a nuclear attack on our country, and the response would be immediate.’

This is the first time since Putin assumed power that he has come out so defiantly and forcefully, making threats and backing them up with a display of sophisticated inter-continental firepower. It indicates that he feels there is a serious risk of the cold war turning into a hot war, and has intelligence suggesting that one of Russia’s allies could come under nuclear attack.

What is certain is that this message is aimed at the US, and perhaps Israel too. The US because it has threatened to wage war on North Korea in response to its testing of long-range missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads deep inside the US. And Israel because its prime minister, Binyamin, Netanyahu has been beating the drums of war drums against Iran with American backing.

The recently-convened Munich Security Conference’s intelligence report presented a worrying outlook due to the growing intensity of the US-Russia  conflict in three main areas of tension: North Korea, Iran, and Syria. It also warned that President Donald Trump’s reckless policies risked pushing the world to the brink.

The Russian leadership strongly opposed the US’ threats against North Korea, and believes the latter is entitled to develop its military capabilities to deter and defend itself against any American attack. Putin’s assertion that Russia would retaliate for any nuclear attack on an ally may have been intended as an unambiguous warning to Trump not to commit any act of military folly.

Nor can it be ruled out that Syria might become the arena for a US-Russian confrontation, or the pretext for an Israeli attack on Iran. Netanyahu has declared that the presence of any Iranian military base on Syrian territory to be ‘a declaration of war,’ incessantly describes Iran and its paramilitary allies as the gravest threat facing not only Israel but to the entire world, and has repeatedly threatened militarily action against it ‘if need be.’

Putin and his military command are alarmed about the American moves in Syria, where they fear Washington may be trying to replicate the Afghani jihadi scenario, especially after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the US military deployment in Syria – currently estimated to be about 2,500-strong – would be open-ended.

Last week, Gen. Aleksandr Venediktov, spokesman of the Russian Security Council, revealed the existence of 30 US military bases in the areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces(SDF) in northeastern Syria, including two airbases at Tabaqa near Raqqa and Tanaf near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, where Special Forces are engaged in training locally-recruited fighters.

Russia also fears further attacks by armed jihadi groups on its naval facility in Tartous and airbase in Hmeimim – especially since the recent drone attack on Hmeimim from rebel-held territory in the north. Examination of some of the downed devices revealed they were equipped with sophisticated components which only the US possesses.

Trump is pouring oil on the fires of tension all over the world. In the coming few months he is expected to scrap the nuclear agreement with Iran, just as the missile treaty with Russia was scrapped, further raising the likelihood of clashes and conflagrations. And the Israeli occupation state is all too keen to light the fuse, secure in the knowledge that the US will rush to its rescue.

Russia has recovered much of its strength, and is once again a superpower to be reckoned with. The country is led by a president who succeeded in regaining the place it deserves on the world’s map. His unprecedentedly forceful speech reflects a self-assurance based on formidable military capabilities and heralds a revival of Russia’s position as a global leader.

Putin’s Russia is a far cry from the Russia of Gorbachev, with his defeatist policies, or of Yeltsin and his drunken stupors. Today’s Russia is saying a big ‘no’ to the arrogance of the US and serving notice that the period of its global hegemony is over and will not return.

When Russia and China both use their UN Security Council vetoes to block American schemes in Syria, the US and its allies should understand that the world has changed, and changed radically.