Syria and the escalation in US-Russia hostility

The new US escalation against Russia raises important questions that fall outside the theoretical scope of analysis. At that level, experts and specialists usually look at the positive and negative effects that developments at the top of the international community have on regional policies and events. The results are generally a lot of assumptions but not many conclusions.

Some such studies see escalation between the superpowers leading to an increase in the intensity of regional polarisation between their regional allies, as happened during the Cold War. Others think it could lead to regional parties having room to manoeuvre to get the maximum possible from their allies, in the belief that the superpowers in question will make concessions to the allies in proportion to their needs.

However, to what extent could this happen in the Syrian crisis? And how will the US escalation — President Joe Biden's description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as "a murderer" — be reflected on any future agreement in Syria?

Will the White House be tempted to go on the offensive in Syria to disrupt Russian plans there? Or could the opposite happen? Is it possible for Washington to stop engaging in Middle East conflicts in order to devote its time and energy to what it believes is an existential conflict with Russia and China?

READ: US condemns regime, Russian airstrikes in Syria

Biden abandoned all diplomatic norms when he accused Putin, on television, of being a heartless killer who will pay a heavy price for his country's interference in the US elections. In response, and also in front of the cameras, Putin exercised a lot of self-restraint in the face of this unprecedented attack by a US president. He responded calmly by calling Biden "rude". He wished President Biden good health and well-being. Not only that, but he also invited Biden to appear with him in a live televised debate to a global audience.

This escalation in hostility between Washington and Moscow was accompanied by the US upping the odds against China, in parallel with a European escalation against both Russia and China. This suggests that a new cold war is on the horizon, although it can still be contained. How will this affect the settlement of regional crises, particularly in Syria?

The situation there is obviously not a priority for the Biden administration. It is interested in reviewing US policy on Syria, led by the new Middle East official in the US National Security Council, Brett Magurk. Nevertheless, the administration supports the idea of maintaining a US presence in eastern Syria, without the kind of leaving-staying uncertainty of the Trump era. Moreover, Washington still supports its Kurdish allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces against Daesh and is paying close attention to the humanitarian situation.

Which county has the fate of Syria in it's hand? - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Which county has the fate of Syria in it's hand? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

America has made it clear that it will not participate in any support that might reach the Syrian regime within the framework of the donors' conference for Syria in Brussels on Tuesday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has cancelled his speech in the Belgian capital and called a conference for the international coalition against Daesh, also tomorrow. Meanwhile, the implementation of the Caesar Act and its sanctions on Damascus will proceed.

READ: US controls 90% of Syria oil

This can best be described as being done to obstruct Russia's role so that Moscow will not be able to reap the rewards of its military intervention in Syria. However, it is likely that the escalation against Russia in Syria will be in line with Washington's general escalation against Moscow.

Blinken's statement issued on the tenth anniversary of the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, in cooperation with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain, and Italy, confirmed the desire to question the legitimacy of the Syrian regime, reject the upcoming presidential election and block Moscow's plan to revitalise reconstruction in Syria.

This US escalation of hostilities will certainly not pass without a Russian response. We are all left to wonder what form that will take.

Translated from the New Khalij, 26 March 2021 and edited for MEMO.