Provocation with chemical weapons and a new strike on Syria have been postponed.
The Russian General Staff of the Armed Forces claims that the Pentagon has formed a carrier strike group carrying cruise missiles in the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Together with information that U.S. Army Special Forces are preparing a provocation in southwestern Syria using chemical weapons, this could imply that a plan with the aim of blaming the use of weapons of mass destruction on Damascus is in its final stages. This would allow a new missile strike on Syrian government forces as punishment. A Pentagon spokesman called this information “extremely ridiculous.”*
“We recognize the existence of signs pointing to potential strikes. In the southern part of the Mediterranean Sea, in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, the U.S. has established a carrier strike group carrying cruise missiles,” stated Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. It’s worth noting that two U.S. naval forces, the 5th and 6th Fleets, continuously operate in these specific areas. Therefore, American military leadership might not be planning anything in particular. These two fleets are able to strike Syria with cruise missiles and aerial bombardments without any advanced preparation.
More interesting, however, is the fact that, judging by the words of high-ranking Russian military leaders, Moscow is ready to resist the Americans more actively this time. In particular, we’re talking about the fact that the Russian military intends to destroy not only the airborne weapons themselves, but also the cruise missile carriers, which will strike Syria. But here’s the question: How much force would be needed to do this? In order to confront the 5th and 6th American Fleets, much more military power is needed than the Russian air and naval forces currently have in the region. In general, it is much wiser for the nuclear powers to exercise restraint in their relationships with each other.
Apparently, the political and military leaders involved understand the situation perfectly well, and therefore must act more cautiously when it comes to the use of special services and special forces. It is well known that the special forces of the U.S., Great Britain, France and a number of other countries are operating in Syria today. In the opinion of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, it’s no longer a question of proxy wars, but rather “direct involvement in the war” by the above countries. In his words, to avoid an open armed conflict, Russian military leaders will be forced to coordinate their actions with the Pentagon. Perhaps, this practice of coordination will continue in the event of a new missile strike. “Don’t fight with them,” Lavrov said. Therefore, it pays to be skeptical about the above statement regarding the destruction of the missile carriers.
However, sensational news of the situation in Syria comes not only from the Russian General Staff but also from Turkey. The latter reported the capture of Afrin. Retaining control of the city without fighting detachments of Kurdish defense forces could be considered sensational. The determination by the Kurds to defend this city was immense, but since the continuation of fighting would certainly lead to the destruction of the city and countless civilian casualties, it is more likely that they decided to leave Afrin. The Kurdish defense force units moved south toward territories controlled by government forces. The Turkish military inherited the technology abandoned by the Kurds along with numerous ammunition depots. It can be assumed that the fall of the canton of Afrin,** and its complete seizure by Turkish forces and forces of the Syrian Free Army, is likely to take place in the coming days. Now all attention is on Manbij. If Ankara is consistent and launches an offensive on this enclave, the Pentagon will have a difficult decision to make - will they fight a NATO ally?
Meanwhile, in eastern Ghouta, fighting has stopped in some places, and a “humanitarian pause” has begun. Refugees have fled by the thousands through specially established areas. Lt. Gen. Rudskoy of the General Staff stated that on the morning of March 17, 44,639 people fled eastern Ghouta. At the same time, three U.N. humanitarian convoys carrying 445 tons of food, medicine and other necessities delivered supplies to those in need last week. However, militants in eastern Ghouta continue to resist fiercely, inflicting damage on the strength and capabilities of the Syrian army. In particular, on Sunday an SU-24 front-line bomber from the Syrian air force was shot down, falling in territory controlled by Damascus. The pilot reportedly ejected from the aircraft. Damascus believes, however, that the situation is generally under control, pointing to an unexpected visit to eastern Ghouta by Syrian President Bashar Assad on March 18.
In general, there’s a certain calm in the Syrian theater of operations. Washington’s political pressure on Moscow and Damascus, as well as the threat of an impending missile strike, seem to have some effect. At the same time, Moscow’s warnings that preparations for a missile strike and a special forces raid have begun reverberates in the deployment of reinforcements, and this likely means that the U.S. will be forced to postpone such plans, if they actually even exist, indefinitely.
*Editor's Note: Though accurately translated, this quote could not be confirmed.
**Translator's Note: A "canton," as in the canton of Afrin, is an administrative division of a country, smaller than a county, and used in certain parts of the world such as Switzerland and Rojava (Western Kurdistan).