US-Led Coalition Is About To Strike Syria, And Putin Risks Losing Face If He Doesn’t Retaliate

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Apr 11 2018
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Trump has finally struck Putin where it hurts the most. On Friday (April 6), the powerful U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions against Russia. As a result, 7 Russian oligarchs, 12 businesses and 17 government officials were put on the Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. Effectively, all their U.S. assets have been frozen.


The MOEX Russia Index, the main benchmark of the Russian stock market, fell 8.3% on Monday – its worst day since 2014. The ruble fell 4.5% against the dollar on Tuesday. Altogether, the net worth of 5 of the 7 sanctioned Russian billionaires fell a combined US$4.2 billion between Friday morning and the close of trading Monday on European stock markets.


It was indeed a slap on Vladimir Putin’s face since those Russian oligarchs were closely linked to the Russian leader. The sanctions were declared under the pretext of punishment against Russia military involvement in Ukraine and Syria, alleged cyber crimes and election interference. Of course, the U.S. doesn’t need to prove any of its allegations.

Russia Vladimir Putin - Angry

Russian President Vladimir Putin has very little bullets to retaliate on this matter. Unlike China who can launch counter-tariffs measure against the U.S.’ trade war, Moscow can’t counter-sanctions Washington. Russia has very little leverage on this matter. And for this reason alone, Putin is extremely furious. Moscow said it would provide a harsh response to the U.S. sanctions.


In reality, however, there’s nothing the Russia can do although the U.S. sanctions are humiliating. That’s because the sanctions did not distinguish between the Russian VIPs and terrorists. The U.S. simply put the Russian MPs and billionaires together with organizations involved in terrorism or drug trafficking. And there was no explanation given as to why they ended up on the list.


But that is not the biggest problem to the Russian supremo. There’s another more critical issue – a U.S.-led military strike against Syria. Trump administration is now blaming Syria, Iran and even Russia for chemical attack against dozens of Syrian civilians, an allegation which Syria and Russia rubbished as a deliberate fabrication staged by rebels in Douma.


President Trump, however, said Russian President Vladimir Putin – who backs the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – “may” bear responsibility, suggesting that the U.S. military could launch an airstrike without giving face to Russia. This comes almost exactly a year after Trump fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to allegations of chemical attack against civilians.


Does this sound like another drama from the same script to divert attention from domestic problems still engulfing the U.S. president? It doesn’t matter even if it’s true that the latest chemical attack was actually staged by the U.S. itself to justify an airstrike against Syria. When the superpower U.S. says you’re guilty, there’s no amount of denials that can help you.


Interestingly, it was only last month that British Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia for the chemical attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. The U.S. quickly agreed with U.K.’s verdict. Strangely, May government refused to provide any detail information, including samples of the so-called Russian-made “Novichok” nerve agent to Russia as proof of the attack?

Britain Chemical Attack - Skripal and his daughter Yulia

President Trump last week signalled to the world that the United States would withdraw from Syria; only to make a U-turn after U.S. military leaders said the so-called mission against the ISIS in Syria isn’t over yet. Suddenly Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is being accused of gassing his own people with chemical weapons. A coincidence or a staged drama to justify airstrikes on Syria?


Trump has cancelled his scheduled trip to multiple South American countries and will not attend the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru. There were reports that British and French forces are ready to launch airstrike on Syria. Two Navy destroyers – USS Donald Cook and USS Porter – armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles were reportedly sailing to the eastern Mediterranean.


Civilian planes were ordered to clear the airspace over Syria by the U.S. military while the European air traffic controller has warned airlines to “exercise caution” in the Eastern Mediterranean. It appears that a wave of missile attacks on Syria is imminent as the deadline of 72-hour window is closing fast before Commander-in-Chief Trump issues his order.

Airstrike on Ground Target

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Monday that Moscow has warned the United States of “grave repercussions” if it carries out an attack against Syrian government force. But the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Washington “will respond” to the alleged chemical attack in Syria – regardless whether the United Nations Security Council acts or not.


The burning question is this – what will Putin do if the U.S.-led coalition attacks the Syria anyway? Depending on the type of attack – just Tomahawk or heavy bombardment – Russian soldiers in Syria could be killed in the crossfire. Kremlin has an estimated 2,000 troops and fewer than 100 warplanes in Syria. The U.S. might choose to warn Moscow ahead of the strikes.


Still, without a military retaliation, Vladimir Putin will lose face even if Russian assets in the country can be evacuated to prevent casualties and assets losses. Putin is seen as the protector of the Syrian regime. If he can’t tell (or threaten) the U.S. to back off, Putin could perish as a pariah full of empty rhetoric without the ability to protect his ally Syria.

Russia President Vladimir Putin - Lose Face

In April last year, the U.S. military fired 59 Tomahawks to a deserted Syrian airbase. For not retaliating, Putin had “egg on his face” but not before he, together with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, threatened to retaliate if the U.S. strikes Syria again. It’s unknown if the Russia-Iran’s threat back then carries an expiry-date. It’s about a year now and the U.S. is about to do it again.


More importantly, the so-called sophisticated Russian supplied S-400 anti-aircraft missile system currently in service in Syria will be put to test. If the U.S.-led air force could eliminate the system without a sweat, it would deliver another embarrassing moment to the military superpower Russia. Putin’s reputation is obviously at stake here.


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