In an interview with valdaiclub.com, Irina Zvyagelskaya, сhief research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, explains why the airstrikes of the US-led coalition will only lead to more confrontation between the Assad government and the Syrian opposition forces.
What do these airstrikes mean for the United States domestically?
For Trump, it was an opportunity to demonstrate that he does not step back from his tough line on Assad. The pretext used is, frankly, dubious, because objective independent probe has not been carried out, and everything indicates that it was a false flag attack with the use of chemical weapons. But, in fact, no one needed a real pretext. For Trump, it was kind of face-saving, considering that his entourage is rather hawkish.
What reaction can be expected from Russia?
Russia’s reaction will be to avoid aggravation, to prevent larger-scale military conflict. I think, we will be using the political channels more actively, including in the United Nations. Militarily, Russia will show restraint. Especially as the Syrian armed forces equipped with Russian-made air defense systems were able to intercept a significant number of missiles. This is also an indicator of our power, showing that we can defend the Syrian airspace quite efficiently.
The US-led coalition includes the United Kingdom and France. What other states could join them?
There are states which have approved of these strikes. This has already been done by Germany and Turkey, other states will also do this openly or tacitly. I do not think that this means expansion of the coalition. Some states have been opposed to Assad from the very beginning. They do not like it how the balance of forces in Syria has changed, that Assad now controls more territory than could be imagined quite recently. Based on this, these states support what is going on, which does not mean that they will participate in it.
Have the airstrikes been a heavy blow to the Syrian armed forces?
Their combat readiness has not been really undermined. The Syrian leadership can make use of this: “look, we were attacked by three major powers, but withstood and proved that we can defend Syria efficiently.” This can be a means of mobilization.
What are the chances for peace in Syria now?
This US-led operation does not bode well for the attainment of a peace deal on Syria. Absent a real pretext, the opposition will see it as direct pressure on Assad, which will make them demand more. They were difficult to deal with before. But now, when the leading powers demonstrate their attitude to Assad and are intent on weakening his regime, the opposition will put forward higher demands at the negotiation table. We well see more recalcitrance, more desire to get what they would not have got otherwise.