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US, Russia Continue to Communicate Despite Pronouncements

US has said it will quit talking to Russians on Syria but with Victoria Nuland on her way to Moscow not everyone is buying that

The Russian-American face-off over Syria took a new turn today with a fairly explicit warning by Moscow that any American missile strike on Syria will be countered by the Russian air defence system. The Russian defence ministry spokesman Gen. Igor Konashenko said in Moscow that any missile or air strikes will pose an obvious threat to the Russian forces deployed in Syria, leaving no option for the Russian air defence system but to react.

The general also let it be known that Russia has taken counter-measures to ensure that the US and its western allies cannot repeat the previous instances of air strikes on the Syrian bases, which Washington had explained away as accident.

Gen. Konashenko gave advance notice to the US not to complain if its missiles get shot down. “The crews on duty will hardly have the time to calculate the missiles’ flight path or try to find out their nationality.” He also took a swipe at US military analysts who brag about the stealth aircraft by saying “all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ jets will face a disappointing reality”.

In another hard-hitting remark, the Russian general hinted that the range of the advanced versions of S-300 and S-400 missile systems deployed in Syria will come as a “surprise” to the Americans. He didn’t elaborate. (RT)

The immediate provocation for the above remarks could be the reports appearing in the US media that there is one school of thought in Washington that Syrian government forces could be degraded through cruise missile attacks and thereby the military balance could be altered in favor of rebel groups. Of course, it is President Barack Obama who will take the final call. (Washington Post)

To my mind, though, the likelihood of Obama ordering military intervention in Syria is rather remote – although the fall of Aleppo is a bitter pill to swallow, since the US not only loses face in the entire Middle East but will also be seen as a power in retreat, which would be a historic watershed in the history of western hegemony in the region.

On the face of it, the chill in the ties between these two great powers, US and Russia, due to differences over Syria has deepened in the past week or so. Having said that, any long-time observer would know that appearances can be highly deceptive when it comes to US-Russia standoff. Reading tea leaves in US-Russian relations is tricky, and one should not rush into judgments. However, there are intriguing signs that Washington and Moscow are tiptoeing around each other, without directly engaging, perhaps, but not without eye contact, either.

Thus, White House played down the Russian move to pull out of the nuclear security pact with US, which is a legacy of President Barack Obama’s presidency. (Reuters) The White House said cooperation with Russia in the field of nuclear security is still possible.

Again, despite the US announcement on Monday regrading the suspension of talks with Russia on Syria, US assistant secretary of state for Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland travelled to Moscow on Tuesday as previously scheduled. Ostensibly, her mission was about Ukraine, but being the highest-ranking career diplomat dealing with Russia in the state department, it is entirely conceivable that she had occasion to have some wide-ranging exchanges with Russian counterparts. Nuland talked mostly with the Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov, who is close to President Vladimir Putin.

Although Nuland is not particularly liked in Moscow – husband is the famous neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan – the body language of her visit seems alright under the prevailing difficult conditions. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov remarked that Nuland’s talks revealed “a growing understanding” on the need to press ahead with the implementation of the Minsk accords. (Peskov’s spin yesterday was that “no headway can be expected” out of Nuland’s talks.)

Alongside, it is apparent that the French Foreign Minister Jean Marc-Ayrault’s unscheduled visit to Moscow today almost entirely focused on Syria – Battle of Aleppo, in particular. France had introduced a harsh resolution on Russia in the UN Security Council two days ago and some testy exchanges ensued with the Russian side. But while talking to reporters in Moscow earlier today, he sounded conciliatory. (TASS)

Jean Marc-Ayrault is travelling to Washington from Moscow. France aspires to spearhead an initiative independent of the US-Russia cogitations on Syria, which is of course traditional to French diplomacy’s independent trajectory in ‘East-West’ relations even during Cold War era. Nonetheless, the French role becomes significant because President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Paris on October 19.

In the ultimate analysis, however, it is the tide of the battle in Aleppo that will set the pace of all the diplomatic legwork going on – not the other way around. It seems improbable that Moscow will commit the blunder again of agreeing to a ceasefire that could be used by the Al-Qaeda groups to bring in reinforcements and regroup. The Russian priority ought to be to complete as quickly as possible the Aleppo campaign and thereafter overnight move on to galvanizing the peace talks.

Today’s Iranian reports highlight that Russian jets are conducting heavy strikes in different parts of Aleppo and fierce clashes are going on in the north-eastern parts of the city. (FARS)

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