Why Russia wants to echo the Cuban Missile Crisis in Syria

Russia’s Putin has sought to deliver a message to America that its stubborn stance on Syria will remain irreversible

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

Russia’s recent escalation in Syria is about a lot more than an attempt to secure a foothold in the Middle East. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Moscow's goal behind its deployment of weapons and military equipment in Syria was not simply to assist its ally President Bashar al-Assad, but to seize a historic moment brought about by the withdrawal of the United States from the region.

For that strategic objective, Russia has partially succeeded in resurrecting some of the spirit of the Cold War. Moscow has ‘directed’ its escalation in Syria in a way to echo the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis – during which the world held its breath for 13 agonizing days, as nuclear war between the U.S. and USSR seemed to lurch closer and closer.

Russia’s Putin has sought to deliver a message to America that its stubborn stance on Syria will remain irreversible.

Raed Omari

Soviet Union no more

Are we witnessing a new Cuban Missile Crisis between Moscow and Washington? The answer is definitely ‘no’ – simply because Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, nor can it be, just as Erdogan’s Turkey cannot be the Ottoman Empire. Things have changed. And, presumably, there are no nuclear-tipped missiles among the weapons the Russians have reportedly deployed in Syria – a country that, unlike Cuba, is far away from North America.

Russia’s recent move in Syria also comes at a time when President Obama is particularly hands-off in the Middle East – and when America is busy with preparations for the next presidential election. Obama was unenthusiastic for any military action in Syria, or elsewhere, in the beginning of his second term – let alone in his last year in office. Obama, the reluctant war leader, is also tied up with many “peace commitments” he pledged to the American people.

A message to America

Despite the apparent triviality in comparing Moscow’s military buildup in Syria to the Cuban Missile Crisis, both involve sending a strong message to America. And Putin’s message is that his stubborn stance on Syria will remain irreversible even if that means sending troops on the ground to fight alongside Assad.

Russia has been seeking to become the “manager” of the Syrian crisis, and not just one of the key players, especially given that the consequences of Syria’s four-and-a half-year conflict have reached Europe.

To achieve this endeavor, the Russians will continue advocating the war on terror in Syria, fully aware that the “nobility” and “allure” of the cause means no one will object.

It is the Russians’ wish to depict the war in Syria solely in terms of the war on terror, so that they can achieve supremacy there. The war in Syria should be only on ISIS and radicalism; this is the notion the Russians have been trying to put across. Remarkably enough, the Syrian army jets have begun bombarding ISIS in Palmyra, with the story of the Russian weapons no longer, it seems, a secret.

Moscow is trying to reach out boldly in the Middle East, partly to counter Washington’s attempts to cut off Moscow’s economic and political ties to the outside world. Washington’s policy of withdrawing from the Middle East allows Moscow to step forward as a stubborn adversary. Decisiveness, as opposed to prudence, has given the Kremlin – not the White House – a leading position in handling the world’s affairs.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

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