From Russia with ‘love’ |

From Russia with ‘love’

The Syrian government has long been a state sponsor of terrorism, and as such has been watched closely by American administrations for years. Early in January, the Russian government decided to supply Syria with a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile designated the Igla SA-18. This is most disconcerting because the SA 18 is a very advanced weapons system that can discriminate between aircraft exhausts and flares, thus negating the primary defense against infrared surface-to-air missiles. As if that weren’t enough, it’s now been reported that the Russians have also agreed to sell Iskander-E ground-to-ground missiles to the Syrians. The Iskander-E would put most of Israel within range of Syrian-operated missiles. Obviously, Russia doesn’t much care what Israel or the United States think of these developments – or perhaps they do and are sending both of us a message. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians have been painstakingly careful not to go beyond U.S.-set strategic limits – until now, that is. So what could have prompted crossing the line?Many U.S. analysts believe that the cause was the recent revote in the Ukraine. Those who have been following the story know that the United States openly supported Viktor Yushchenko and his pro-West opposition faction, and that the United States is planning to send substantial aid to Ukraine once civil unrest subsides. In addition, the Russians have accused Israel of having funded the pro-Western movement in Ukraine and thus feel that they have been left with few options right in their own back yard. The Russian government sees the Ukrainian issue as a fundamental strategic issue and feels that if the U.S. and Israel are free to intrude on a fundamental Russian interest, then turnabout is fair play. Sending advanced weaponry to Syria is in many ways the perfect counter because we’re still trying to manage Syrian behavior toward Iraq. At the same time, the Israelis see Syria as a permanent strategic concern. But more to the point, neither the United States nor the Israelis trust the Syrians not to “inadvertently” allow those missiles to wind up in the hands of terror organizations. They therefore understandably regard the SA-18 as a serious threat. In a nutshell, Syria’s acquisition of those missiles strikes at fundamental U.S. and Israeli interests.Linkage is a long-standing diplomatic practice, and in this case the Russians have sought to compensate for a weakness in one area by applying pressure in one where they have an advantage. Linkage has also long been a cornerstone of Russian (and Soviet) policy, so this type of behavior is not new. The former Soviet Union frequently threatened to move against Berlin as a counter to an American invasion of Cuba. During the Cold War, the Soviets may have been unable to directly deter the United States from invading Castro’s Cuba, so instead they chose to deter us by threatening our interests elsewhere. But what makes the recent turnabout so disturbing is that this sort of conduct from the Russians has been absent from their diplomatic machinations for quite some time. Many feel that our “Ukrainian gambit,” i.e. our support for the pro-Western elements in Ukraine, crossed a fundamental line from the Russian perspective and is seen by the Russians as a threat to their fundamental interests. Western arguments about democracy are seen by the Russians as rationalizations for engineering an intolerable geopolitical shift within its sphere of influence. Because world opinion wouldn’t allow the Russians to respond in Ukraine, they’ve chosen to respond in Syria instead.The Russians could not demand a quid pro quo on Ukraine (after all, what could they realistically do, ask us to stand by as they tried to rig the next Canadian elections?) But they are letting us know that what goes around comes around. Washington cannot take lightly the notion of first-rate, man-portable air defense systems in the hands of a government that could easily hand them off to terrorists. But there is little that Washington (or Jerusalem) can do about the weapons sale. However, this much is certain. The administration will be called to task if it allows the Syrians to obtain weapons that are one day used against our air crews, just as it will be severely criticized if it takes any action that interferes with legitimate commerce between two sovereign nations.In the “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” world of geopolitics, so much goes on under the average citizen’s radar screen that it makes one wonder how many hundreds of other conflicting and/or paradoxical situations we never even hear about.Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.netVail, Colorado

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