Two separate stories today highlight just how dicey the situation is getting between the U.S. and Russia.
The Russian- and Iranian-backed Hezollah issued a clear warning to the U.S. that any further military action against Syrian forces would result in a “red line” being crossed and that they would respond militarily.
Meanwhile, the White House doubled down on its warning to President Assad by threatening new strikes on Syria if their air force uses chemical weapons or barrel bombs.
Last night, in an ominous threat raising the prospect of war, Iranian and Russian forces said the US President had crossed a ‘red line’ with his missile attack.
‘From now on we will respond with force to any breach of red lines and America knows our ability to respond well,’ the military chiefs said in a joint statement with militant group Hezbollah.
The Russian Embassy in London suggested on Sunday night there could be ‘real war’ if Moscow is presented with an ultimatum over Syria.
But UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will lead a push on Monday for Russia to face tough new sanctions unless it withdraws its support for Assad.
At a G7 meeting in Italy, Johnson will call for Moscow to be threatened with isolation from the international community and a raft of economic punishments.
Johnson also insisted the US could carry out further strikes against the Syrian regime over use of chemical weapons.
Somehow, I take Russia and Iran’s “red line” threat a heckuva lot more seriously than they took Obama’s.
But White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had his own threats to make:
“If you gas a baby or drop a barrel bomb onto innocent people, you will see a response from this president,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
He also said Syrian president Bashar al Assad must go, adding: “You can’t imagine a stable and peaceful Syria with Assad in charge.”
It appears that the big powers have decided that if Putin wants a confrontation over his support for President Assad, he can have one.
But Moscow’s unwavering support for Syrian president Assad has brought mounting condemnation and the threat of sanctions against senior Russian military officers working with the Syrian army.
Speaking after a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Moscow must now decide whether to stick with the “toxic” Syrian president or work with the G7 nations to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
“Do they want to stick with a toxic regime? Do they want to be eternally associated with a guy who gases his own people?” he asked.
Mr Tillerson is expected to deliver a “clear and coordinated” message to the Kremlin later this week after Mr Johnson cancelled his own visit to the Russian capital following conversations with Mr Trump’s team.
Mr Trump later spoke to Theresa May by phone and the pair agreed to act quickly to persuade Russia to drop its support for Mr Assad.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The President thanked the Prime Minister for her support in the wake of last week’s US military action against the Assad regime.
“The Prime Minister and the President agreed that a window of opportunity now exists in which to persuade Russia that its alliance with Assad is no longer in its strategic interest.
“They agreed that US Secretary of State Tillerson’s visit to Moscow this week provides an opportunity to make progress towards a solution which will deliver a lasting political settlement.
Putin has made a huge error in leaving it up to Assad whether Russia goes to war with the US. The initiative for war would not be in the hands of Putin, but with the Syrian dictator, who could initiate a conflict by using chemical weapons again on civilians or just dropping a few barrel bombs of conventional explosives. On his own, Assad could start a war and then force Putin to either make good on his threat or slink away.
Vladimir Putin does not seem to me to be the slinking type.
Hopefully, Putin will put his foot on Assad’s neck in order to keep him in line. But if Putin has finally decided he wants a confrontation with the west, Syria is probably where it will start.