Russian President Vladimir Putin views the US missile strikes on Syria as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law, and under a false pretext,” according to the Russian president’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. “With this step Washington has struck a significant blow to Russian-American relations, which were already in a sorry state,” Peskov said one day after the strike. The Russian response to the missile strike was one of almost unanimous condemnation, though it is unclear how much appetite Moscow has for a real escalation with the US in Syria. In that context, Hassan Beheshtipour, senior fellow at IRAS, told Shafaqna News agency (in Farsi) about the recent US strikes in Syria and how this move will affect the bilateral ties with Russia. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Most of the embattled countries in the Middle East and North Africa has ruined by the hands of extra-regional powers. Given the Syria crisis, will the US and Russia go to war in Syria?
"It seems unlikely, because neither Russia’s interests nor the American's will be secured by fighting each other in the Middle East. If you mean the proxy war, it is ongoing now, not only between Russia and America, but also between the regional countries, unfortunately, both in Syria and to some extent in Iraq. But the fact is that it does not do justice to only blame the trans-regional countries for these events. As a political analyst, I at least believe that the role of regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Turkey and Egypt has been much more significant in creating such an atmosphere, and even their domestic players also played a role in it. Of course, this does not mean ignoring the crimes of America, Israel, Britain and France in Syria and Iraq."
After US strikes to the military base in Syria, most of the countries has endorsed US move and Iran and Russia became isolated. To what extent, it will be possible a kind of global consensus shape against Tehran and Moscow?
"It is also true that China abstained on the draft resolution introduced against Syria, but the fact is that China supports the position of Russia and Iran on Syria, just like Venezuela supported Russia’s position in the Security Council. That who is responsible for [chemical weapon attacks] in Khan Shaykhun is an important question. Iran and Russia proposed that an international fact-finding committee be convened, but it was declined. For this reason, it can be said that in practice, Iran and Russia were not backed by other influential countries in the world. However, the fact is that the world public opinion - protests held in Europe and America, and even articles published in Newsweek, New York Times, and in some prestigious American and English journals - cast serious doubt over accusations that the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical attack against its opponents. The public opinion and the articles raised the question that how Syria could be responsible for the chemical attacks. If Syria had the upper hand in the war, naturally, it would not be willing to give America and its allies the chance to intervene in Syria. But America tried to convince the world that Syria was the main cause of the attacks. But this was not that simple, especially because the historical experience shows that when America and Britain tried to show that Iraq had nuclear bomb and weapons of mass destruction, their claims proved to be lies after the fall of Saddam’s regime, because after the fall of Baghdad there was no proof suggesting that there was nuclear bomb in Iraq.
"The same situation occurred for allegations against Syria: in 2014, all chemical weapons were transferred out of Syria and destroyed under the auspices of the United Nations. Now the question is that: where did these weapons come from? They claim that Assad’s opponents do not have access to the sarin gas - a weapon that cannot be blown up in a warehouse, because it constitutes of two separate parts, and they should be combined to get the weapon activated. However, the fact is that these countries could not prove the claim that the Syrian government had played a role in this regard, and [of course], the Syrian government was in no position to favor such an attack. Putting all these pieces together, you can see that it is true that different countries supported the position of America, but for the world public opinion, this support is similar to the support given for claims against Saddam that later were proved false."
With respect to the current development in the Middle East, what is your judgment of the US-Russia ties in the future?
"In this context, there are two views: one is that Russia and America cooperate with each other at the international level, and their issues are international as well. Problems created in the region are the result of rivalries between the two countries, and if they come to an agreement with each other in the light of the international issues, the problems at the regional level will be solved. The second view, which I accept it more due to the existing historical evidence, believes that America and Russia follow their own interests, but when a proper ground is provided in some countries, they use it to achieve their own interests. This means that all these developments are not designed and planned by them, but they use the developments for their own interests. For example, the fight between the East and West of Ukraine led to a civil war in this country, therefore, the US, the European Union and Russia intervened, and as a result, a crisis occurred in 2014. So if people of this country had not fought with each other, the [proper] ground would not be provided for the intervention of Europe and America. The same holds true on Syria. Syrian war, the conflict between the army and people in the city of Daraa in the southern Syria created the excuses for the terrorists to be organized in Hama, Homs and later in Aleppo and Damascus by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arabic Emirates, Qatar and by the help of Britain, France and America. So the situation turned into what we are witnessing today. Thus, providing the ground for the crisis, on the one hand, and the powers’ misuse of the situation, on the other hand, shape the situation in the region.
"With Trump’s coming to power at the White House, America and Russia started a new round of competition, and contrary to what was announced, the conflicts between Moscow and Washington not only did not decrease, but also they seem to be increasing. However, the fight against the ISIS which today operates both in America and Russia, and has expanded its playground to Europe, North Africa and East Asia, has pushed both sides - America and Russia - to resolve the Syrian crisis, and [by doing so], they may be able to control the ISIS and the Takfiri terrorists in this region."
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