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Game-Changer: Russia’s Involvement in Syria Shifts Balance of Power

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Russia’s military involvement in Syria is undeniably a game-changer in the Middle East, US geopolitical analyst Eric Draitser told Sputnik, adding that Washington will definitely try to restore its shrinking positions in the region at all costs.

 It is naïve to believe that Washington will eat its humble pie and admit that its decade-long policy in the Middle East has been a complete failure; it is more likely that US hawks will do whatever it takes to bolster their shrinking influence in the region.

“Although the US may be a declining power, it is certainly not an impotent one; there are many countermeasures that Washington could take in response to the ascendance of Russian and Iranian influence [in the Middle East],” US geopolitical analyst and Stopimperialism.com editor Eric Draitser told Sputnik.

Possible US-NATO Counter-Strategy

According to Draitser, first and foremost, the US will try to use Russia’s airstrikes in Syria as a wedge to drive Turkey and Russia further apart. So far, Washington will solidify Turkey as a staunch US ally, rather than as a NATO member but also Russian strategic partner, the geopolitical analyst elaborated.

“This could take many forms, from working to undermine the potential “Turk Stream” pipeline project to motivating Turkey to mobilize and invigorate the terror networks it manages in Central Asia and China’s Xinjiang province. It is well-documented the relationship between Turkish intelligence and a number of jihadi groups including al-Nusra Front and the Islamic Army of Conquest in Syria, as well as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of Uighur terrorists in Xinjiang and Pakistan.  The US understands the importance of Russian-Turkish economic cooperation which is worth tens of billions of dollars, and will likely use this as leverage against the Russians,” Draitser underscored.

Russian tactical group seen at Hmeimim aerodrome in Syria

It is worth mentioning that Eric Draitser gave the interview to Sputnik just two days before Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Russia with the deterioration of relations between Moscow and Ankara over Russia’s Syrian airstrikes. In an interview with RIA Novosti on Friday Turkish political scientist Aydin Sezer noted that Erdogan’s stance could have been influenced by NATO, adding that Turkey will face tremendous economic losses if it severs relations with Russia.”Washington will also use Russia’s involvement in Syria to solidify relations with its key allies in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel.  Each of those countries has, in various ways, attempted to foster closer relations with Moscow in the last two years as they consider Russia’s assertiveness on the world stage, as well as its vast wealth of both energy and military hardware.  With Russia moving to destroy the terror networks that those regional actors support both overtly and covertly, this provides the US the perfect opportunity to pull these countries back into its orbit, rather than allowing them to develop even semi-independent foreign policies,” the US geopolitical analyst told Sputnik.

According to Draitser, there is also the possibility that the US and its NATO allies will go even so far as to use Russian military involvement as a pretext for direct military engagement. Although it seems unlikely that US President Obama will risk a direct military engagement in Syria at the end of his presidency, one should keep in mind how unpredictable and/or irrational imperial powers can be when cornered and faced with the inevitable decline of their hegemony, the analyst warned.

“Finally, the US will do what it can to force Russia to pay a physical price for its involvement.  US intelligence, as well as that of its Gulf allies, has been directly involved in supporting jihadist factions in Russia’s Caucasus region for decades.  This latest chapter in Syria will likely motivate the CIA to activate those networks to whatever extent they can, which could possibly mean terrorism inside Russia’s borders. While that is unlikely to do anything but further motivate Moscow to fight the extremists in Syria and beyond, it could still be a move Washington makes to try to influence Russian public opinion,” Eric Draitser pointed out.

Following in Reagan’s Footsteps?

SU-24 bombers

While Washington is busy training and arming the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels, which in their turn are handing weaponry to al-Qaeda affiliates and sporadically defecting to al-Nusra and Islamic State, the history of the US’ covert involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s comes to mind.By providing military aid to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, Washington succeeded in driving out the Soviets from Afghanistan, but at the same time it facilitated the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Since that time Washington has been reaping the whirlwind it sowed in the 1980s.

Can we expect that Washington will provide its Middle Eastern proxies with anti-aircraft weaponry to shift the balance of power in the region?

“It is entirely possible that the US could supply anti-aircraft weapons to the jihadists in order to down Russian planes.  However there would be a political price for Washington to pay because it would then be public knowledge that the US supplied Islamic State and al-Qaeda with such weapons for the purposes of shooting down Russian planes,” Draitser noted.

“Of course, it is likely that Washington could try this and simply rely on its propaganda machine to convince the world that the anti-aircraft weapons were provided to “moderate rebels” because Russia was bombing them,” the analyst added, stressing that in the event of this Washington would run the risk of escalating the conflict in the region.

Draitser underscored that the political and geopolitical situation has changed dramatically since the 1980s.

“Today, Russia’s stature internationally is growing, it is creating international alliances with China, Iran, and others, and it is fast becoming the main focal point of multi-polarity, the sort of geopolitical reality that the majority of the world seeks.  As such, Russia is increasingly seen as a positive force in the world,” he stressed.

If Washington tries to tip the balance in its favor through arming its fictional “moderate” rebels, Russia will quickly expose this evidence of the US arming ISIL to discredit the US’ entire position in the region.

“Washington has steadfastly maintained that ISIL is a threat and must be destroyed, and it has waged a bombing campaign in order to achieve precisely that.  If then Washington is publicly exposed arming the very same forces for the purposes of waging a proxy war against Russia, it will be a diplomatic and political nightmare.  Moscow undoubtedly understands this,” the geopolitical analyst underscored.

Russia’s Military Involvement in Syria is a Game-Changer

Commenting on the possible scenarios of further geopolitical changes in the region, the analyst emphasized that he regards Russia’s military assistance to Damascus as, undeniably, a game-changer.

“For Syria, Russian involvement is a godsend.  The military, though fighting valiantly for 4.5 years, has been depleted significantly and has become increasingly unable to wage major counter-attacks to retake lost territory.  Cities such as Aleppo, Hama, and Idlib have been difficult for the Syrian government to liberate and/or control.  With Russian airstrikes causing chaos for ISIL, Nusra and the other jihadists, it undoubtedly opens a window of opportunity for the Syrian Army to liberate important territory.  Perhaps most important is the corridor connecting Damascus and Aleppo which, if under Syrian government control, allows for a significant increase in the capacity of the military, as well as providing a much needed morale boost.  With Russian help, Syria’s military could regain the upper hand in this conflict,” Draitser told Sputnik.

Rebel fighters from the First Battalion under the Free Syrian Army take part in a military training on June 10, 2015, in the rebel-held countryside of the northern city of Aleppo

At the same time, Iran stands to gain tremendously from Russian involvement, the analyst emphasized.”Before the war in Syria began in 2011, there was talk of an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline to bring Iranian energy to the Mediterranean coast.  This could once again be a reality if Syria is kept whole.  Additionally, Iran’s steadfast support for the legal Syrian government, as well as its growing alliance with Russia, means that Iran is now much more willing to see itself as part of the non-western world, allying with the Russia-China-BRICS-SCO axis rather than playing a middle ground with the West, which it has long tried to do,” he explained.

According to Eric Draitser, the third political actor to benefit is Iraq.

People watch as smoke from a US-led airstrike rises over the outskirts of Tal Abyad, Syria.

“Iraq likely sees the writing on the wall, namely that the US does not want to allow it to effectively fight and defeat ISIL.  This is why Iraq has requested Russian airstrikes inside its territory as well.  Ultimately, Iraq’s government, which was supposed to be more amenable to the US agenda after the ouster of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is beginning to assert itself independently.  This means closer ties with both Russia and Iran.  The major objectives for Baghdad are the liberation of Ramadi and Mosul, and the economic and political benefits that come with that.  They understand that they will not be able to control all of Anbar, but if they can deplete the infrastructure of ISIL, it will provide the Iraqi military and its Iran-backed militias the opportunity to achieve victory,” the US geopolitical analyst emphasized.Russia is now seen by the Middle Eastern powers as a mighty ally that could solve the region’s problems, in contrast to Washington which is currently entangled in its own controversial geopolitical game.