Russia, because they will be coming”. Military experts now talk about a situation more explosive than the Cuban Crisis of 1962. The geopolitical analyst Manuel Ochsenreiter tells FWM that the harsh rhetoric in any case has destroyed the diplomatic mechanisms that helped prevent escalation during the Cold War.
In a tweet that attracted a lot of attention U. S. President Donald Trump today said:
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
Manuel Ochsenreiter, geopolitical analyst. Photo: Supplied
Manuel Ochsenreiter, German geopolitical expert who has worked in the field in Syria as a war correspondent and has a good understanding of Russian diplomacy, points out that the statement about shooting down American missiles did not come from the Foreign Ministry, but rather from the Russian envoy to Beirut.
– One has to remember that in Russia, there exist different factions that are more or less confrontational, so to say. Another thing is that sometimes, you let a junior official at a lower level say things as a sort of test balloon to scan the response. What really matters is what the Foreign Ministry and the Presidential administration say.
Alexander Zasypkin, Russia’s envoy to Beirut, Lebanon, said:
– If there is an American strike, then we… will shoot down the missiles and target the positions from where they were launched.
The statement however corresponds well with what Russia’s President Vladimir Putin himself said on multiple occasions recently. He has pointed out that Russia has been deceived repeatedly by the West. When Michael Gorbachev, at that time leader of the Soviet Union, agreed to embark on reforms of the Soviet system, it was against guarantees that NATO wouldn’t expand an inch to the east. Russia agreed to destroy its chemical and biological weapons, but NATO kept theirs. Russia opened its nuclear facilities for inspection and agreed to scrap some of its nuclear arsenal, but the USA kept theirs. Russia was deceived and humiliated in Serbia and again in Libya. Military experts now conclude that Russia sees itself in a position where it can no longer retreat anymore.
The only bigger attack platform that the US has at its disposal close to Syria at the moment is the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook, with its battery of 56 to 96 Tomahawk cruise missiles and the powerful Aegis air defence, which is a part of the US global missile shield. But it is also the very same destroyer that was subjected to an electronic attack when it was closing in on Russian waters in the Black Sea in April of 2014. An Su-24 Fencer with electronic warfare equipment buzzed by several times, resulting in a total failure of all the sensors and other electronic equipment onboard, according to persistent rumours. What is known is that the ship immediately set sail towards a friendly port with the crew so demoralized, that a dozen of the sailors asked to be relieved of duty.
According to military online forums, the ship has not been fully repaired since, and its deployment to the Mediterranean was not as part of any strike group. The orders to head for the Eastern Mediterranean, close to Syria, were received with dismay, with some even suspecting that the ship was to be sacrificed to serve as a pretext for war against Russia. Since it is not able to defend itself, it would be “a sitting duck” after firing its cruise missiles.
Guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) launches a Harpoon anti-ship missile during an exercise. File photo: U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Patrick Grieco
On the other hand, we also must take into account that the US has an unknown number of submarines, which can also fire cruise missiles, at its disposal in the Mediterranean.
Manuel Ochsenreiter quotes many military analysts who conclude that the situation today is more dangerous than during the Cuban Crisis of 1962. The biggest difference being that while many in the West protested against the looming war, the public today is passive or ignorant. At the same time, he underlines that neither Russia nor the US is prepared for a large-scale war.
– Neither Washington, nor Moscow wants a situation where mothers of fallen soldiers protest outside the presidential office, he says.
However, the harsh statements from the US side makes it hard to not deliver on the promises of a strike. And if Russia ends up with its soldiers being wounded or killed, Putin will have little option but to retaliate, Ochsenreiter says.
– I think both leaderships are now in talks with each other and discussing this, he says. The message is probably that Russia vows retaliation if Russian forces, embedded among the Syrian Army, are targeted, and the US promises not to strike them, he thinks.
Russia is reported to be mobilising parts of its military, but also here Ochsenreiter thinks that it is a part of a political game.
– To mobilise is not the same as to say “now it’s war”, but “look, you have stretched this so far we now have to cancel the holiday for our soldiers”. The question is if Trump understands the differences, he says.
The harsh and vulgar rhetoric from Trump is very unusual, to say the least, usually used between states that are already at war. According to Manuel Ochsenreiter, it has completely destroyed diplomatic mechanisms.
– Diplomacy has many nuances. It is a difference saying that you are not going to tolerate something, and that something is unacceptable. During the Cold War, there were certain rules that made communication possible even under dramatic circumstances. Now these mechanisms are destroyed. The gravest danger I see at the moment is that these mechanisms will not be available the day you really need them.