Staunton, April 15 – The Western attack on Syria hasn’t changed the likely outcome of the conflict there, Bashar Asad’s alliances with Russia and Iran, or Vladimir Putin’s view of Donald Trump, Petr Akopov says; but it has already led to a transformation of Russian public opinion in adequate ways that could have dangerous consequences.
That the limited attack has not change the situation on the ground or Iranian and Russian support for Asad is obvious, the Moscow commentator writes in Vzglyad; and it is also obvious that Putin understands perfectly well that Trump acted to look tough and distract attention from his personal problems at home (vz.ru/politics/2018/4/14/917735.html).
But if Putin understands that what has just happened is “an imitation conflict,” it is far from clear that Russian public opinion views things in the same way, Akopov says. Russians are asking why the Kremlin hasn’t responded to what many of them see as an attack on Moscow’s status as a global power.
“It is surprising,” he says, that “people do not see or do not want to see the obvious.” First of all, Moscow’s talk about international law is “simply an element of a geopolitical game … Russia isn’t relying on it: it is defending its national interests by all available means. It is strange not to notice this.”
Second, “this strike did not inflict any harm on the positions of Russia in the world.” Three years ago, the West was talking about ousting Asad and excluding Russia from the Middle East; now, the positions of Asad and Moscow are much stronger, “and the position of the US not only in the Middle East but in the world as a whole has significantly weakened.”
And therefore, third, Russians who compare the attack on Syria with some kind of strike against Russia “are not simply being “stupid” but “laughable.” According to Akopov, “we are winning the Syrian war,” and the Americans are limiting their targets to ones in which Russians will not be harmed. Why should Moscow do anything but criticize in response?
The current Russian-American conflict in Syria isn’t at all close with the past conflicts Russians often compare it to. It isn’t like Vietnam in that Russia in Syria openly declares its presence and has made it clear that no lethal attacks against its forces there will be tolerated, something the Americans have been compelled to respect.
And it isn’t like Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999 when the Americans did whatever they wanted. Indeed, if one compares that situation with the one now, it is obvious “how the world and everything in it connected with Russia has changed over these years,” Akopov continues, although there is one aspect of this comparison worthy of note.
“The present US strike in Syria bears just the same symbolic and hopeless character as did the taking under [Russian] control of the airport of Kosovo’s capital because neither the one nor the other can change the course of history. In 1999, Russia couldn’t defend Serbia from NATO rockets and bombs.”
But now, “in 2018, the US cannot do anything to inflict harm on Syria and our positions both in that country and in the Middle East more generally,” not to speak of Russia itself. Putin understands that very well, Akopov suggests; it is important that the Russian people do as well lest in misreading the situation, they give the US a victory it doesn’t deserve.