News Analysis: Russia to continue support for Syria despite Trump's warnings

Source: Xinhua| 2017-04-13 03:39:22|Editor: An
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Combination of file photos show Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 29, 2016 and U.S. President DonaldTrump (R) at a press conference at the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on Feb. 15, 2017. (Xinhua)

By Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, April 12 (Xinhua) -- Despite U.S. President Donald Trump's with-us-or-without-us ultimatum to Russia, Moscow is likely to continue its support for the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad, U.S. experts said.

Trump grabbed headlines worldwide earlier the week when his administration made it clear to Moscow that the Kremlin's support for Assad would not be tolerated, after the alleged chemical weapons attack last week against Syrian civilians, including children. Trump ordered missile strikes last Friday at a Syrian airfield to retaliate for the attack.

Initially, Russia earlier this week called for an investigation into the chemical attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the United States' military assault on a Syrian airfield, saying that the U.S. move represents an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law under a far-fetched pretext.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, during U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to Moscow on Wednesday, gave the top U.S. diplomat an earful of criticism over the U.S. strike.

"I...don't think Russia will align with us," Michael O' Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.

"But I do expect some tough talk on both sides. Putin feels that we've made this war far worse and he won't easily change his mind," O' Hanlon said, referring to Russian President Putin, who allies with Syria' s president.

Experts said Russia simply is unlikely to stop supporting al-Assad.

"Over time, Russia could seek to persuade Assad to transfer power to a friendly crony, with a few fig leafs of power sharing to make it look slightly like a government of national unity. That's about as far as I see Moscow pushing for change," O' Hanlon said.

In terms of what actions Trump might take against al-Assad, O' Hanlon said: "I think economic pressure and perhaps the threat of a war crimes indictment may be our best tools."

Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East Intelligence Office, told Xinhua that the idea of Washington and Moscow coming to a sweeping accommodation is highly unlikely.

"U.S. and Russian interests, whether in Syria, toward NATO, human rights, etc. are far too different-despite President Trump's earlier interest in an understanding. One side inevitably would have to make big sacrifices inconsistent with some of its policy interests, but Trump and Vladimir Putin are two...assertive personalities who instinctively preserve their powerful images. In some ways, they are too much alike," White said.

So long as Russia and Iran remain staunch allies vigorously fighting alongside their premier regional ally, Syria' s current government is likely to survive in some familiar form, he predicted.

"For the U.S. to change that, Washington would have to field a formidable military challenge to (al-Assad)," White said.

"There is no obvious surrogate on the Syrian battlefield capable of powerfully challenging Assad, even with lots more U.S. aid. The U.S. would have to take the field itself, and risk direct confrontation with the Russians and Iranians--highly unlikely," he said.

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