Andrey Ivanov, Svobodnaya Pressa
Around half of Russians (48%) believe that the Syrian conflict could become a pretext for the beginning of a Third World War. Meanwhile, 52% of citizens approve of the Russian air force’s operation in Syria, and 49% stand in favor of continuing the policy of active intervention in the conflict. Such statistics are the findings of a recent survey conducted by the Levada Center.
In recent weeks, tensions between Russia and the West over Syria have constantly grown. The concentration of forces in the region is large. The Western coalition, Turkey, Russia, and Iran are all involved. Each side has a navy near, an air force, and anti-air defenses. What would happen if Russian air defenses accidentally shot down an American plane? Or vice versa: what if the Americans destroyed a Russian once? There have already been dangerously close meetings between planes.
Will compromise be found on Syria? The US continues to insist on the departure of Bashar al-Assad, while Russia does not intend to give him up. On the other hand, the light does not shine on only one particular person. Clearly, the contradictions are much deeper. This means that Russia is supposed to give up something big for the sake of disagreements. But what exactly?
According to the sociological survey, Russians understand the danger of the situation, but are not willing to back down.
The head of the sociological research department of the Levada Center, Aleksey Levinson, believes that such duality is characteristic for mass consciousness.
Levinson explains: “The danger of a Third World War is perceived by people more in words. But speaking of mass consciousness, such a logical contradiction has existed over the entire period since the reunification with Crimea and in general over the whole post-Yeltsin period. Mass consciousness is built on this contradiction. On the one hand, people want to see the country as part of the ‘civilized world’, while on the other they want to preserve its ‘special path.’ Russian public opinion is incapable of escaping this contradiction in recent years. There are many examples of this. Let’s say, for example, that 80% approve of the president, but more than 40% have complaints against his domestic policies.”
A leading expert from the Center for Military-Political Research at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Mikhail Aleksandrov, says: “Our citizens don’t fully understand the essence of the processes underway in the world, but they intuitively feel that our policy in Syria is correct.”
Aleksandrov elaborated: “It is primitive to think that Russia and the West have quarreled just over Syria. Our liberal public loves to juggle. They say that we have gotten into some little conflict, and because of this there could be a world war. But the confrontation with the West manifests itself in many things: in the situation in Ukraine, in NATO expansion, in the arms race, and in the information campaign against us. This is a systemic and complex process, and we see only one of this process’ manifestations in Syria.”
“Our actions in Syria are aimed at stopping the West. Otherwise, we will have to fight in Central Asia, the North Caucasus, or in Crimea. And people subconsciously feel this. They fear that there will be a Third World War,” Aleksandrov explained.
The first and second world wars began over fairly minor incidents, but were the result of the existence of larger contradictions.
“Today, two tendencies are fighting in the US. One part of the elite is aggressive. It doesn’t want war, but believes that it can force Russia to capitulate through bluffing. They think this way because Gorbachev showed this example in his time…There are many people in our government today who worked during Yeltsin’s time, and the Americans are counting on them.
“But now they won’t succeed in forcing us to retreat. As Vladimir Putin said at the Valdai club, Russia is not satisfied with a de-escalation if this comes at the cost of our own funeral. But part of the Western elite thinks that they should continue to put pressure. on us If this point of view wins out, then the world really could fall into a Third World War. They will increase the pressure, but we will not step back, and then stopping the escalation will be really difficult. But there is also another part of the elite now consolidated around Trump. These people understand that the US’ role in the world is very different and that getting involved elsewhere is not worth it. This means that Russia can somehow be agreed with.”
Have previous years shown that compromise is still possible? Aleskandrov says: “It is difficult to reach agreements with the militant part of the American elite, as it already believes in its own invincibility.”
The expert explained: “There was the case when the Russian Federation and the US agreed on destroying Syria’s chemical weapons, but Washington’s readiness to compromise should not be overestimated. Back then, the US needed to remove chemical weapons before beginning active military operations. There really was the threat of these weapons proliferating among uncontrollable terrorist groups, and this posed a threat to Israel. We operated initially according to the American plan. The US hoped to win with its methods, but then we stepped in and shuffled the cards. “….
Why has Syria become the stumbling block?
Aleksandrov elaborated: “The West, together with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, wanted to turn Syria into a militant Sunni state and destroy the Shiite axis of Syria-Iran-Iraq. They planned first to destroy the axis, and then attack Iran, followed by Russia, as in turn terrorist activity would be redirected towards our territory. They simultaneously pressured us from Ukraine and the Baltic states. Syria is part of a larger geopolitical operation directed against Russia. Therefore, in no case can Bashar al-Assad, as our ally, be surrendered.”
“The point is not Syria as such and certainly not Assad. The West is ready to bluff more and psychologically pressure us. But the problem is that they are bluffing not only in words, but also in deeds. Will the Americans cross the red line? The US is now hesitating and doesn’t know what to expect from us. In Syria, we have concentrated a large group of forces and everyone sees our readiness to respond. At the same time, Washington is still hoping to psychologically break us,” Aleksandrov concluded.
Senior researcher at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Azhdar Kurtov, posits that events in Syria could be the pretext for a world war. Kurtov explained:
“The first and second world wars began over fairly minor incidents, but were the result of the existence of larger contradictions. War breaks out when there are serious preconditions met for such. At there such preconditions today? Undoubtedly! The US understands that it is losing global hegemony. Therefore, they could opt for unleashing war to show the world their strength and simultaneously undermine the power of their geopolitical rivals – Russia and its allies…Syria is not the main thing dividing Russia and the United States. But the US is interested in achieving what it wants in Syria by any means….Political initiatives have been undermined by the gestures of groups controlled by the US. The war in Syria could be the trigger for a global conflict. But this is not because the Middle East is so important for Russia or America. The United States have simply, for the past few years, opted for an aggressive foreign policy logic.”
“Hillary Clinton is a militant overall. If she gets into the White House, I fear that there will be more offensive actions by Washington,” Kurtov forecasted.
Can the tension in Syria be relieved so that there would be less conflict with the US? Kurtov doesn’t think so.
The expert explained: “Syria is not the main venue of confrontation in the modern world. It is precisely because Syria is of no significant interest that compromise is possible over it. Syria is not so crucial for the US. The US just needs to make a single move, and the country will be at peace. But they are not taking this step. From Washington’s perspective, Russia is weak and can be broken with the tools at hand. But everything will become clear after the final results of the presidential elections in the US.”
“However,” Kurtov went on, “one should not hope for any radical changes. If Assad wins in Syria, then the Americans will find a new region to stage something similar. In recent time, the US has provoked tension in many points on the planet, not only the Middle East.”
Kurtov concluded: “Hysteria over the nuclear tests in North Korea continues to be fanned. Bellicose statements are being made over disputed islands in South-East Asia. The Americans are initiating a military alliance with Japan which could lead to confrontation with China. A new color revolution cannot be ruled out in the Arab world, either in Algeria or in the Gulf states. The US can use any point of tension to start a war, and they are keeping many conflicts in a smoldering state. They can light them up again in any place when they so desire.”
Translated by J. Arnoldski