On Monday, Russia threatened to shoot down any coalition jets flying west of the Euphrates river, after the U.S. shot down a Syrian warplane over the weekend. Russia is also suspending its use of the hotline between the U.S. and Russia that was set up to prevent accidents in the Syrian combat zone. The U.S. has also suspended talks with Russia over resolution of the Syrian conflict.
Michael Mosser, who specializes in international relations and global studies at the University of Texas at Austin says the U.S. has a choice in Syria – to de-escalate its role in the conflict, or take a more aggressive stance, especially with regard to Russia. And, he says, it may be difficult for the U.S. to avoid conflict in Syria.
“[Many planners are worried] that we have essentially headed down a road where further confrontation is likely, or even inevitable,” Mosser says. “You’ve got the American forces working behind the scenes to re-establish communications with the Russians – the de-escalation, de-conflict hotline that has been suspended for a few days.”
Mosser says Russia’s intentions are unclear and conflicting.
“Moreover, the Russians seem to be speaking in two different languages here because the defense minister made this very pointed warning to the American forces that they would be treated as targets,” Mosser says. “The foreign minister, on the other hand, said ‘everybody needs to take a step back and work to de-escalate the situation.'”
The escalation of conflict in western Syria, where U.S. forces shot down the Syrian plane, could potentially lead to a division between the eastern and western sides of the country, Mosser says, much as Germany was divided by the Berlin Wall when the U.S. and Russia were in conflict after World War II. But there are more players in Syria.
“One of the differences between Syria 2017 and Berlin [between 1948 and 1961] is that this is a fundamentally more complex situation. You’ve got a great many overlaps in Syria,” Mosser says. “[You have] the two great powers, the U.S. and Russia, but you’ve also got Iran, you’ve got Saudi Arabia, you’ve got various non-state actors. Obviously, ISIS is still a viable actor here.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.