Syria strikes: Russia’s retaliation? What retaliation?

Does Russia (or the others, Iran, Assad’s regime) have means, and what kind of means, to retaliate against the West after Syria strikes, is Russia even interested in some kind of visible retaliation? Read few comments.

Marcel Dirsus, Political Scientist, Doctoral Candidate, University of Kiel

The extremely aggressive Russian rhetoric before the strike was designed to prevent a strike from happening. Russia has the ability to retaliate against the West, but it’s unclear that they have the will to do so. This was a very limited strike that was not designed to change the regime in Syria – it was purely designed to deter Assad and others like him from using chemical weapons. Russia has no interest in a direct military confrontation with the West. According to media reports, Russia was warned of the strikes before they happened. Russia will now put up a show to demonstrate to everyone how outraged it is.

Stanley Sloan, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council of the United States, Visiting Scholar in Political Science, Middlebury College Author of Transatlantic traumas: Has illiberalism brought the West to the brink of collapse?

There is very little that Russia can do in terms of either political or economic responses that will be particarly threatening to the United States, France or the UK, given Russia’s vulnerabilities in each area. Russia has military capabilities with which it could attack Western forces in the region, but I would be very surprised if Moscow chose to any serious attack given the risks of failure and/or escalation. The Western strikes were wisely calculated to be multilateral, with France and the UK joining in, they were quite narrowly targeted, they apparently avoided Russian forces, and they posed no threat to the survival of the Assad regime. This suggests that they were designed to be condemned by Russia and its Syrian ally but to avoid provoking any response that could actually damage Western interests.

Loud complaints and threats therefore seem to this observer as the response most likely to be chosen by Moscow. However, it seems unlikely that the attacks will have any tangible effect on the course of hostilities there or the Russian role in them.

Perhaps the most threatening part of the response so far is the charge that “Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible” — perhaps a warning to President Trump of his own potential vulnerabilities.

Paal HildeAssociate Professor, Centre for Norwegian and European Security, Institute for Defence Studies/Norwegian Defence University College

There was tough talk on both sides ahead of the US, UK and French strikes in Syria on 14 April. Both the strikes and the reactions so far suggest, however, that neither side is interested in escalating the conflict. While Russia (and Iran and the Assad regime) does have the capability to launch a military attack against US targets either in Syria or elsewhere, the US would fiercely defend its forces and interests, escalating the conflict. Russia (or Iran) could use non-military means such as a cyber-attack. Any major such attack would likely also provoke a US response or counter-attack however. Given the limited nature of the 14 April strike, there seems to be few incentives for Russia (or Iran or indeed the Assad regime) to escalate. The strikes did not target the Assad regime’s overall, conventional military capability and thus did not threaten its ability to continue the military advances achieved with Russian support. Why then risk a wider US and coalition engagement that would target Syrian command and control facilities and conventional forces, and even Assad himself. Most likely, the reaction from Russia (and Iran and Assad’s regime) will be limited to trying win the propaganda war. Notably, the Russian MoD has already presented a very different account of the 14 April strike than the coalition’s – one in which the Syrian regime successfully intercepted 71 of the 103 cruise missiles launched by the coalition.

Garret MartinProfessorial Lecturer, School of International Service, Editor at Large at the European Institute, American University

Can Russia (and allies) retaliate against the West after the strikes against Syria’s chemical facilities? Of course, Russia has the means. It could attack/target forces opposed to Assad, and which are protected by US forces. Moscow could also retaliate against the West in another conflict/area (be it Ukraine or cybersecurity).

But I don’t think a major retaliation is likely and that for a variety of reasons. First, it was a limited strike by the West (only 105 missiles). Second, the West took extra steps to limit the risks of escalation. There was communication with Russia prior to the strikes to minimize the risks of Russian casualties, and the attacks against Syrian chemical facilities took place well away from Russian areas of interest/control in Syria (such as the Russian bases). Finally, such strikes by the West may send a message to Damascus, but they are highly unlikely to really help the opposition and threaten Assad’s regime. In that sense, the strikes are not really undermining Putin’s key goals in Syria, which are preserving the Assad regime and allowing for Russia to project power and influence.

Stephen BlankSenior Fellow for Russia, American Foreign Policy Council

They might have been interested in retaliating had Trump struck Russian targets or something much greater like Syrian air defenses (which should have been taken down) but the big talk from Moscow is just that, talk. I seriously doubt they would strike U.S. and allied ships for Assad’s benefit


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