Are America and Russia Set for a Showdown in Syria?

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


A showdown between Russian and American forces has been talked about during every confrontation between Russian and American interests. And the closest we came to it was in Yugoslavia at Pristina Airport where a demented Wesley Clark did his best to start WW3, before being relived of duty prematurely by Clinton. But despite all the blustering from both sides, Russia was unable to save Yugoslavia. Similarly the United States was unable to save Georgia, which is back in the grip of the Russian bear.

Russia has relied less on force, aside from Georgia, than on subversion through its network of agents and on being the alternative to the United States. That was why Russia could afford to lose Saddam knowing that whoever replaced him would eventually come calling. And that is what happened as Iraq’s Maliki has turned to Russia for weapons and support as a member of the Shiite axis.

Syria is important to Russia, especially since Putin has bet big on the Shiite axis of Iran, Syria and Iraq, because it’s the last remaining Arab Socialist power which has old ties with Moscow dating back to the Soviet era. It also has a large Russian emigre population, particularly of women who married Syrian men. But Russia can afford to lose Syria.

The Cold War is over and China is on the way up, but the global map is still divided in somewhat similar ways. You’re either dealing with the United States or looking for alternatives. And Russia is the big alternative. If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Syria, they will want American weapons, but sooner or later they’ll also want Russian weapons because they come with fewer restrictions which comes in handy when using them against the United States or American allies.

All that is important to keep in mind when reading stories like these about the gathering storm clouds of war.

Russia has concentrated five landing ships in the eastern Mediterranean in a show of force  meant to deter Western nations from intervening militarily in Syria, The Sunday Times quoted a Russian diplomat as saying.

According to the report, the ships are carrying military vehicles and hundreds of Russian marines, and are being accompanied by combat vessels.

While officially Russia has claimed the ships have been deployed to partake in an exercise to “improve the management, maintenance and testing of the interaction of naval forces,” the Times quoted the diplomat as saying the marines were meant to deter the West from deploying ground forces in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

No doubt Russia does not mind doing a little extra intimidation. But it’s even more likely that any such noises are an empty bluff.

However, a Russian intelligence source was quoted on Sunday as saying that the presence of over 300 marines on the ships was meant as a deterrent to keep countries hostile to the Bashar Assad regime — a key ally of the Kremlin — from landing special forces in the country.

300 Russian Marines aren’t likely to do much to stop even the Turkish and Qatari special forces operating with Sunni terrorists in Syria. It’s even less likely that Russia would try to use them against the British and French special forces, or some of the CIA sneakers on the ground, who are probably already in Syria. Even the USSR would have hesitated at that.

Still in 1967, the Soviet Union apparently contemplated an invasion of the Israeli city of Haifa during the Six Day War using its shipboard marines.

The British newspaper on Sunday quoted an Israeli source who said that it was conceivable that a Russian ground force would step in “to defend the Alawite corridor stretched between the Lebanese border in the south and the Turkish border in the north.”

Again that would take a sizable force for a messy fight and a significant long term investment, which it is doubtful that Russia is interested in making.

If the Alawites lose Syria, then Russia may be willing to send them some military supplies and use them for propaganda purposes, but any kind of Russian military intervention is unrealistic.

The USSR was at least somewhat motivated to protect politically sympathetic states. Russia is no longer interested in a world revolution. It knows that 10 years down the road, it will have a deal with the new Syria.

  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

    Whether it comes to an actual showdown, or not, it is indeed a proxy war between the sides.

    The arena is more explosive that at any time in recent memory, even for a region which is always on the brink of exploding. Nevertheless, let us place the onus at the Islamist-in-Chief's door, he set the chess pieces in motion through a myriad of (mis)actions, Benghazigate at the fore – http://adinakutnicki.com/2012/12/07/world-war-3s-
    Adina Kutnicki, Israel – http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

  • carrie

    If the Alawites lose Syria the Sunni's will exterminate them. Syria is crawling with every branch of extremist and fanatic in the ME.

    • Empress_Trudy

      And that's fine too. The only practical outcome to any of this is no outcome at all. Endless slow motion grinding anarchy that chews and burns everything in Syria. It needs to become a black vortex of suck that pulls in Iran, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda and Russians. It won't end in a genocide but it can begin with one. Other than the requisite cold wet orphan photo piece on CNN or Time magazine no one will notice and no one cares. Everyone's worried about chemical weapons? Why? All the other times Arabs used them on each other it was ignored. Keep Calm and Chemical On.

  • Thomas Wells

    If the Syrian chemical and biological stuff hits the fan , nobody wins.

  • Zolani Siphofane

    It is amazing to say Russians can’t commit themselves on Syria but Americans have got special abilities to commit themselves anywhere in the world.You call it American exceptionalism forget about that you are broke whereas Russians have got all the money they need you owe them you also owe Chinese they are your bankers you are left only with your empty dreams of leading the world while you are capable only to sow discord,anarchy and chaos.Nobody in his right mind nowadays buys your story and lies.

    • Harley

      Silly person thinking money matters anymore… Our currency is no longer backed by gold but by our military and oil… we've just hit the biggest oil and natural gas booms in history look up the shale oil booms in America 2013. We're set to be the number one oil exporters by 2018 and we will still have military control over most the oil in the ME… so countries all over the world will still need american dollars hence we will be able to afford a war with russia and china and whoever else… Hell we're about to bankrupt China like we did the Soviet Union hahaha If you notice all the countries we've been at war with have tried to sell their oil for other than the dollar… look how that worked out for em. And sixty percent of the American is owned by government subsideries and the american people look it up… also only a small percent owed to china and russia and india the rest is allies… And it is amazing… thats why we have over 900 bases worldwide so we can do that unlike russia who has only two naval bases outside of her territories. If russia even attempted to launch a nuke it would get stopped over her airspace and russia would be a big ass nuclear dessert…

      • Damian

        America cant fight wars on her own,she needs her allies and have not fought a formidable opponent.Ten years in Afghanistan and still fighting the towel heads.The only wars the US wins are the ones in Hollywood.

  • Sisto Maximo

    The world is a stage! Quite frankley the Zionists are controlling the stage! One thing I read something which really is amounting to pathetic is the concept of being a Zionist and an American Patriot. Really!
    First of all in America we don’t bulldoze houses of murders or mass murders in this country. We do not segregate anymore in this country. In America we do not build illegal settlements! and lastly Americans allow freedom of religion. You can still stand on a street corner and preach what ever you want without getting beat up by a bunch of extremist Zionists with the help of the authorities like in Israel. Everything Zionist goes against American values, against the U.S.Constitution! You have Zionists in the Justice System and the court system that are ripping up the U.S.Constitution. Look how Emporer Bloomberg the King Herod of New York City went after the Occupy Wallstreet People like they were Palestinians occupying Jerusalem! This Zionist even has a statue of himself in Isreal. He had Isreali military train the NYPD and other Police Agencies across the country in ethnic cleansing, shooting unarmed criminals without being Persecuted. This happens all the time in Israel. The are about a couple hundred Zionists Jewish and Christians here in America that should be charged on Federal Treason Against the U.S.A. The American Foreign policy has been hijacked by these Zionists that put Israeli interests before American Interests. We have a Congress that gives the Prime Minister of Israel 25 standing ovations at a recent speech. A Prime Minister who wants us low life American Christians to fight Israel’s wars. The Country of the United States has been Sabotaged by these Israeli Zionist who have dual citizenships but their true alliance is with Israel not America! That is Treason my friends!

  • Matt

    Most my life was to fight the Soviets, destroying the world, DEFCON. really Syria is not much in the big picture. I miss those days of the cold war the the Soviets were gentlemen, sit down and have a drink. Peres to Putin (Putin is not Russia) but you promised you would stop Iran. USSR do things differently. There is not going to be a bomb.

  • Anwar Mahmood

    Why can't we talk of peace instead of war.

    We want peace for all.

  • Jason

    The stage is set for the Gog-Magog war. Russia's capture of Georgia made this war easier for them but it wont matter in the end. It is in this war that Damascus ceases to be a city. Damascus has never been destroyed, EVER! Should Assad retaliate against Israel with Scuds that is exactly what will happen. Russia, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan and the Muslim Brotherhood army will all burn before they over take Israel. None of these countries have held combat exercises with each other and that is also explained in the bible about the attackers being confused and fighting each other. Now we can see why America is not mentioned in this war. Obama is about to be impeached and short of the Navy sinking hostile Russian ships and joint U.S. and Israeli Missile defense systems going fully operational that will be it. Obama wants to stay out of the fight so he can be the great peace maker. Putin is stupid for not keeping Iran and Syria in check. He will lose 2/3rds of his already fragile army in this war as Israel will hand them a biblical beating.

  • Damian

    Keep on dreaming.