A stand-off over the Middle East problem is further straining relations between the USA and Russia. Official Washington sharply condemned the air strikes on the Syrian city of Aleppo, which killed 323 civilians, including children, and hit two hospitals. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said what is happening in Aleppo is worse than “a slaughterhouse”. Experts believe these developments will add to the uncertainty of the geo-political situation in the Middle East. They do not even rule out a regional war. What implications will the escalation of the Syrian conflict have for the global geo-political situation?
Superpowers clash in Aleppo: civilians killed
The situation in Syria is getting even more complicated, with the conflict having escalated into a full-scale civil war. A ceasefire deal between the USA and Russia completely broke down, and Washington and Moscow accuse each other of failing to abide by the deal.
Western powers` blames reached their peak at the recent UN session when the US, British and French ambassadors to UN accused Russia of committing war crimes and fueling violence in the Middle East. But Russia dismisses all accusations with tough rhetoric.
Sixty-nine children were killed by the bombs that fell on Aleppo, with the death tall reaching 323. This caused outrage of the international community. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said those using “ever-more destructive weapons in Syria” are committing war crimes. He described the situation in Aleppo as “worse than a slaughterhouse.” “Imagine a slaughterhouse. This is worse. Even a slaughterhouse is more humane,” Ban told a UN Security Council meeting. (see: “Aleppo is worse than a slaughterhouse” – Ban Ki-moon / Euronews, September 28, 2016).
The West believes that both the Syrian regime and its Russian ally are committing war crimes. A heavy bombardment of rebel-held part of Aleppo has intensified recently. The Syrian opposition does not have warplanes. The rebels are supported by the West, so it seems logical that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Russian warplanes launch strikes on eastern Aleppo.
Washington said it is suspending cooperation with Russia over Syria, demanding that the bombing be ended. (see: US rejects Russia proposal for joint air strikes in Syria / Euronews, September 29, 2016). Moscow called for the two countries to cooperate on military operations to target the Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra. But Washington not only turned down the proposal, but announced cessation of any talks with Russia on the problem.
On the other hand, some in the US urge physical elimination of Assad. But this attitude towards official Damascus is thought-provoking as it runs contrary to the US-Russia deal on Syria. Western powers want Assad to stand down and face trial over his actions. This can seriously change the situation around the Syrian conflict, and experts say the process has already begun.
Both rebels and government troops are sending in reinforcements to Aleppo. While Russia and Iran provide military assistance to the Assad regime, the opposition is backed by Western powers. (see: Битва за Алеппо: стороны получили подкрепление / Euronews, August 9, 2016). 2,000 Iraqis crossed into Syria to help the regime forces and Kurdish groups, while the rebels received assistance from Idilib and Hamdan.
Regional clash and the spread of terrorism: two dangerous scenarios
The conflict has now reached its decisive point when the geo-political fate of both Syria and the entire Middle East is at stake. Pro-Assad forces` capture of Aleppo will weaken the rebels` position and eliminate the possibility of any talks with Damascus. But the opposition`s keeping the city under its control will put the troubled Assad regime face to face with even more serious problems.
Geo-political impact of the situation should also be taken into account. In fact, the battle for Aleppo involves Western powers on the one side and Russia-Iran alliance on the other. The US-led coalition does not want the Assad regime to take control of this part of the city. Turkey and Saudi Arabia also back the Syrian opposition. So covert West-Russia conflict is now deepening in Aleppo. Experts warn that it may degenerate into a bitter regional war.
Washington’s rhetoric has become very tough recently as it is making serious accusations against Russia. The tension was fueled by the Dutch prosecutor bodies` announcing that the missile that downed a Malaysian passenger jet came from Russia. Western powers demand that those who ordered the plane to be shot down and the executors of the order should be identified and stand trial.
The West appears to be determined to punish Moscow for Syrian and Ukrainian problem. But Russia is a superpower, and it will respond. Will this stand-off lead to clashes between the sides? Although experts are skeptical about an armed confrontation between the West and Russia, they do not rule out the possibility that the sides will try to strain the situation through their regional partners. This can have two negative implications.
Firstly, sectarian and ethnic confrontation is deepening in the Middle East. It`s no secret that superpowers established certain groups in the region using the ethnic factor or ideological differences between Sunnis and Shia. These groups are now very active on the Syrian battlefields. Hezbollah’s involvement in the conflict has exacerbated sectarian tensions. All military groups, including the rebel Free Syrian Army, fighting against the Assad regime believe in the sectarian nature of Hezbollah`s involvement.
Secondly, the Syrian conflict threatens to strain relations between regional powers as they will have to choose between the West and Russia-Iran duo, and to undermine the Islamic world in the long run.
In addition, the situation may pave the way for the spread of terrorism and clashes to the regions around the Middle East. Head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Aleksandr Bortnikov said terrorist groups in the North Caucasus are going to expand their activities. (see: ФСБ рассказала об активизации террористов на Северном Кавказе… / “Riafan”, September 28, 2016).
Interestingly, US Department of State spokesman John Kirby warned Russia of “more body bags” and “attacks on Russian cities” if the Russians do not cooperate with Washington in Syria. “Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and will continue to lose resources, perhaps even aircraft,” he told reporters. (see: Захарова ответила на предсказания Госдепа о возможных терактах в России / “Lenta.ru”, September 29, 2016).
Russia will undoubtedly reciprocate the warning. This was already felt in the response given to Kirby by spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova (see: previous source). Obviously, instead of saving itself from the conflict the Middle East will become a theater of military clashes in a broader scale. And this means a real war that carries a significant threat to humanity as a whole.