It was just two days ago when Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev warned that if Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar invade Syria in a transparent attempt to shore up their Sunni proxy armies currently under siege by Moscow’s warplanes and Hezbollah, a “new world war” would be inevitable.
He also indicated that such a conflict would likely drag on for “decades.”
“Do they really think they would win such a war very quickly? That's impossible, especially in the Arabic world,” Medvedev said. “There everyone is fighting against everyone... everything is far more complicated. It could take years or decades."
On Saturday, Medvedev was back at it with the hyperbole (or at least we hope it’s hyperbole) in Munich where more than 60 foreign and defense ministers are gathered for the 52nd Munich Security Conference. In his speech, the PM challenged NATO’s military maneuvers in the Baltics as well as the alliance’s general approach towards relations with The Kremlin.
“The political line of NATO toward Russia remains unfriendly and closed,” he said in a speech to the conference. “It can be said more sharply: We have slid into a time of a new cold war.”
“NATO on Wednesday approved new reinforcements for eastern Europe, including stepped-up troop rotations on its eastern flanks and more naval patrols in the Baltic Sea,” Bloomberg notes. “In response, the Kremlin dismissed the alliance’s argument that the move was merely defensive.”
“Russia’s rhetoric, posture and exercises of its nuclear forces are aimed at intimidating its neighbors, undermining trust and stability in Europe,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told the conference earlier. “We strive for a more constructive and more cooperative relationship with Russia.”
All of this comes on the heels of a year in which NATO made a concerted push to place new weapons and troops near Russia’s borders and prepare allies for a rapid deployment in the event Moscow invaded a neighboring state. The Kremlin says those fears are unwarranted, but the West points to Crimea and Ukraine as examples of “Russian aggression.”
“Russia has a simple choice: fully implement Minsk or continue to experience economically damaging sanctions,” Kerry said in Munich on Saturday, referencing the fragile ceasefire agreement that has at various times fallen apart in Ukraine. “Russia can prove by its actions that it will respect Ukraine’s sovereignty just as it insists for respect for its own.”
Kerry also lambasted Russia for what he calls “repeated aggression” in Ukraine and Syria.
“Kerry said Russia is defying the will of the international community with its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and its military intervention in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad,” AP wrote earlier this morning, adding that “He [also] repeated allegations that Russian airstrikes in Syria have not been directed at terrorists but rather at moderate opposition groups supported by the U.S. and its European and Arab partners.”
Good to be back at @MunSecConf. Transatlantic relationship critical because it is focused not just on regional challenges but on global ones— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) February 13, 2016
US & Europe at forefront of fight against violent extremism. Recent terrible attacks have only reinforced our determination to defeat Daesh.— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) February 13, 2016
With @poroshenko, urged unity, stability, reform, faster progress against corruption; reaffirmed US support for full Minsk implementation.— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) February 13, 2016
“To date, the vast majority, in our opinion, of Russia’s attacks have been against legitimate opposition groups and to adhere to the agreement it made, we think it is critical that Russia’s targeting change,” Kerry said. “If people who want to be part of the conversation are being bombed, we’re not going to have much of a process.”
“The opposition may be pushed back here and there but they are not going to surrender,” he added.
We would beg to differ. They may wage a protracted war of attrition once the dust settles but in the short-term they're almost surely going to surrender. They have no choice. "Russia said on Saturday a ceasefire deal for Syria agreed by major powers was more likely to fail than succeed, as Syrian government forces backed by further Russian air strikes gained more ground against rebels near Aleppo," Reuters writes. And it's not just Aleppo, some reports now indicate government forces are moving into Raqqa, in what may be the first sign that Russia and Iran are setting their sights on the ISIS capital, a move that could preempt a Gulf state military intervention by effectively removing the excuse for the Saudis to be in Syria, forcing Riyadh to either admit it's going to war to oust Assad or stay at home.
Speaking of the Saudis and their thinly-veiled excuse for sending ground troops to Syria, here's what foreign minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir had to say at the conference:
Obviously that's absurd. There's no reason whatsoever to suppose that an Assad-less Syria would cease to be a "fertile environment" for ISIS. In fact, it's easy to imagine ISIS rolling right over the other armed militants in the country were Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and the SAA not fighting to restore the government in the west.
For his part, Sergei Lavrov told the conference that all sides are in the wrong in Syria. "Human rights groups and the U.N. recognize that everyone on the ground is doing something which is wrong from the point of view of humanitarian law," he said. "My point," he added, "is you should not demonize Assad. You shouldn't demonize anyone except terrorism in Syria."
That echoes statements made by Bashar al-Assad himself in an interview out Friday with AFP.
Although the conference is meant to promote international cooperation on pressing matters of security, the tension was palpable. Perhaps Medvedev summed things up best: "Sometimes I wonder if it's 2016 or if we live in 1962."