Russian S-300 missiles are a pawn in Russia’s diplomatic game. Photo: Al Arabiya

By WANG LI    

Special to Pulse News Mexico

On April 21, one week after the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia would sell S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria unconditionally. Since Moscow denounced the recent U.S.-led missile strikes as an “aggression” against Syria that violated international law, selling S-300 missiles to Syria seems to be a logical next step.

As is well known, the powerful weapon of the S-300 has a range of up to 125 miles and the capability to track down and strike multiple targets simultaneously with lethal efficiency. This would mean a quantum leap in Syria’s air defence capability and pose a strong challenge to any upcoming menace from airstrikes. Before the U.S.-led airstrikes last week, Moscow had refrained from providing Damascus with such advanced S-300s. But now, Russia openly rejects Western demands to halt such sales.

As a matter of fact, Russia had made explicit warnings to shoot down U.S. missiles prior to the airstrikes and even to target the missile launchers. These threats are part of a wider Russian strategy aimed at showing the entire world – and the Middle East, in particular – that Moscow stands by the Bashar al-Assad regime no matter what horrors it unleashes. Russia was supported widely by the world with an argument for the role of the United Nations and the field-trip investigation of the alleged chemical weapons sites in Syria. Meanwhile, Russia was sure to demonstrate the extent and the efficiency of its deterrent capabilities, including its S-300 missiles system, which is regarded as the key to any nuclear power.

Ironically, the U.S.-led airstrike against Syria aimed to damage Assad’s chemical weapons program and to deter the murderous regime in Damascus from unleashing alleged chemical weapons on its own people. Yet in reality, the strikes are more of an indication of Russia’s success at causing Western powers to limit their actions and opt for extreme caution in their response to Assad’s regime. Since Russia’s actions are guided by cold, hard logic, by standing firm alongside its Syrian client, it sent a message globally that any Middle Eastern state which aligns with Russia will gain the essentially unconditional backing of a great power, whose overall purpose is to rebuild its global  status and boost the value of Russia as a trusted great power.

In the diplomatic field, Russia also shows its position. On the same day as the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria, a sovereign state and also a client state of Russia, President Vladimir Putin denounced the attack, saying “the United States is deepening a humanitarian catastrophe.” In both legal and moral terms, the U.S.-led coalition’s military action openly violated international law, norms and practices. As the fully armed nuclear powers and the permanent members of UN Security Council, the United States, Britain and France deliberately ignored the high authorities of the United Nations. Just one day ago, Secretary General António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres called for the creation of an independent panel that “could determine who used chemical weapons in Syria, as the absence of such a body increases the risks of a military escalation in a country already driven by confrontations and proxy wars.” Still, the three powers arrogantly rejected an appeal from the international community.

Why did the Western trio do this? Postulating his “anthropo-geographic inversion” as a pattern in current international relations, Austrian professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic was predicative and accurate: “… it is an absolute imperative for the external/peripheral powers to dominate such a pivotal geo-economic and geopolitical theater by simply keeping its center soft (e.g. by preempting, preventing or hindering the emancipation that might come through any indigenous sociopolitical modernization and economic diversification). This is the very same imperative that has remained a dominant rational of inner European and Asian machtpolitik for centuries.”

In summary, Russia has appeared to be a winner with dual identities: one as a defender of a small country worn by an eight-year civil war, and the other as a strong military power which has potentials to challenge the hegemony of the United States and its key allies. Although China did not openly align with Russia militarily, Beijing and Moscow once again insured their consensus on the Syria crisis. First, Russia alongside China and many other states denounced the military strikes on Syria by the United States, Great Britain and France as a violation of the basic principle of prohibition of use of force in international law that runs contrary to the UN Charter. Second, the use of force against Syria on the ground of “punishing or retaliating against the use of chemical weapons” does not conform to international law. In this case, we should not forget the precedent of the Iraqi issue. That historical lesson should be learned because it is very irresponsible to launch military strikes on a sovereign state on the mere grounds of “presumption of guilt.” Third, China and Russia are more convinced than ever before that they must deepen their strategic partnership of coordination in light of the latest U.S. national security report,. which defined Beijing and Moscow as “global competitors.” Because of this, Russia, working with China, Iran and many other states, is definitely able to challenge the United States and its key allies globally.

Wang Li is a professor of international relations and diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs of Jilin University, in  Changchun, China.


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