Russian pundits believe that the U.S. is hesitating to strike Damascus alone, but it is not willing to give up, either.


President Barack Obama meets with his National Security Staff to discuss the situation in Syria, in the Situation Room of the White House, August 30, 2013. Photo: Pete Souza / Official White House

Moscow does not believe the U.S. intelligence information that claims government forces in Syria used chemical weapons, and it does not intend to reconsider its position on the issue. Meanwhile, Russian experts believe that Obama has found himself trapped on the Syrian issue and is now trying to postpone or even cancel a planned military operation.

“The things that have been shown to us in the past and recently by our American partners — as well as by British and French colleagues — are absolutely unconvincing. There are no facts there, only statements saying ‘we know for sure.’ Yet, when we ask them for more detailed evidence, they simply say: ‘You know, this is top-secret information, so we cannot show it.’ Therefore, we conclude that no such facts exist,” says Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s minister of foreign affairs.

Konstantin Dolgov, the human rights commissioner at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, believes that it would be impossible to explain an attack on Syria based on humanitarian grounds. According to him, American methods of protecting Syrian civilians will cause them even more harm.

“The principle of ‘protecting’ the civilian population while causing even more harm to it is unacceptable to us. We remember the tragic events connected with the unlawful use of force in the former Yugoslavia. Then, the population was similarly ‘protected’ — and then, once again, the same in Iraq and Libya. Afghanistan is also an illustrative example of such ‘protection.’ Hundreds of civilians — including women and children — are killed by drones and aircraft strikes by international forces operating there,” Dolgov says.

“We believe that the shortest path to the promotion of human rights and bringing an end to the suffering being endured by the people of Syria is the achievement of a political settlement through a dialogue between the parties in the Syrian conflict,” says the diplomat.

Against this background, Russian experts believe that, in deciding to “postpone military action” against Damascus, Barack Obama was primarily guided by domestic political considerations.

“Unlike Bush, Mr. Obama, being a lawyer by profession, is concerned with having his actions legitimized — especially after his British ally refused to support his plan, which came as a severe blow to him,” Dmitry Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, told Kommersant. “Obama wants at least to share the responsibility with Congress.”

Trenin emphasized that the current president of the United States is “a politician, rather than a geopolitician, and the internal American component remains a priority for him.”

Alexei Malashenko, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and a member of the Scientific Council of Moscow Carnegie Center, also believes that, being faced with opposition to his initiatives in the U.S. and around the world, Obama does not want to be responsible for a new war.

“It is clear that most of the Republicans are in favor of this attack. Some Democrats also support the idea. However, the lawmakers are one thing, and the people who manage the practical politics are another, since ultimately they will be accountable to society,” says Malashenko.

The political analyst says that, against a backdrop of extremely unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the assassination of the American ambassador in Libya, a strike against Syria will negatively affect the popularity and authority of Obama, who wants to smoothly complete his second presidential term.

Malashenko suggests that Americans have found themselves in a trap on the Syrian issue: They understand that this attack will lead neither to the end of the civil war, nor to the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad. As a result, the White House cannot stop supporting the Syrian rebels, but they also do not want to give an order for a useless strike.

“If the United States does not make this strike, it will be an admission of its own weakness. If it makes the strike, this will be evidence that it made a mistake. In any case, Obama will be criticized, and, in any case, it will be clear to everyone that the American course is simply incomprehensible,” says Malashenko.

The expert does not rule out the possibility that an attack on Syria may simply not take place at all: “It seems to me that the Americans will constantly look for reasons to postpone their attack. If it is not the G20 Summit, it will be waiting to see what the U.N. commission discovers. It is just possible that the Americans ‘will display humaneness.’”

This article first appeared in Russia Beyond The Headlines.This article references materials from RIA Novosti, Voice of Russia, Kommersant and Vzglyad.