As crazy as it may sound, the longtime most-feared scenario of the Cold War — total and complete war with Russia — is closer now, it would appear, than at almost any other time in history.
Both the United States and Russia are engaged in a high-level proxy war in Syria where the 5-year-old civil conflict there has killed more than 400,000 civilians. Since at least September 2015, Russia has been actively helping Syria’s leader Bashar Assad fight rebel armies, including those led by ISIS and offshoots of 9/11 terrorist group Al-Qaeda.
Under President Obama, the U.S. has been funding and supplying arms to those same rebel armies, including elements which have allied with and subsequently transformed into ISIS. At the same time, the Obama Administration has used ISIS as an excuse for its attacks that have in a few cases left Syrian civilians dead and, embedded with them, Russian soldiers.
A recent airstrike on a United Nations food convoy headed toward the battle-scarred city of Aleppo destroyed the convoy and left at least 12 aid workers dead, an event that was captured in horrific photos splashed on the front pages of the world’s newspapers.
There was also an attack on a hospital in Aleppo that left 20 dead and more than 100 wounded. There are believed to be up to 250,000 civilians in Aleppo who may be caught between belligerent forces; the UN has formally declared the city to be under siege.
In the wake of these events, the U.S. and Russia have traded accusations about who was responsible for the airstrikes, and the ongoing cease-fire talks being held by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have been canceled.
“Russia and the [Syrian] regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals, medical facilities and children and women,” said Kerry in a statement in Washington. “This is a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives.”
Kerry further termed the airstrikes war crimes and said the matter may need to be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He’s also threatened to renew withering economic sanctions for Russia.
An escalating war of words with Russian leader Vladimir Putin has seen Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton accuse the country of perpetrating the summer hacking of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails.
Those emails contained sensitive information about pay-for-play activities that brought about the resignation of Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security released a joint statement that read “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”
Meanwhile, Russian officials have turned around and warned the U.S. not to continue to strike any more targets in Syria. “I would recommend our colleagues in Washington to carefully weigh possible consequences of the fulfillment of such plans,” said spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov of the Russian Defense Ministry.
Konashenkov cautioned that a communications channel with the U.S. used to defuse potential military flare-ups was not sufficient to prevent accidents. “It must be understood that Russian air defense missile crews will unlikely have time to clarify via the hotline the exact flight program of the missiles or the ownership of their carriers,” he said.
U.S. Defense Department officials say they have no plans to change their agenda. “We’ll continue to conduct our operations as we have for months now over Syria, and we’ll continue to do so taking every possible step we need to ensure the safety of our aircrews,” said Peter Cook, press secretary for the Pentagon.
Cook added that he believed the aforementioned hotline was sufficient, saying “It’s been an effective means of communication to avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation. And we will continue to employ that line of communication in an appropriate fashion. We would encourage the Russians to do the same.”
Republican U.S. Senator John McCain has said, “The U.S. and its coalition partners must issue an ultimatum to Mr. Assad — stop flying or lose your aircraft — and be prepared to follow through. If Russia continues its indiscriminate bombing, we should make clear that we will take steps to hold its aircraft at greater risk.”
Russia announced it has moved its supersonic S-300 surface-to-air defensive missile system to a naval base near Tartus, Syria to protect its base and its ships stationed there. The system is fully capable of shooting down American aircraft and ballistic missiles.
This is in addition to an even more advanced system, the S-400, that the Russians had previously deployed elsewhere in Syria. Russia also maintains other arrays of surface-to-air defenses at their Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s Latakia province. U.S. defense officials have said they will monitor these systems to see if they become “active.”
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. would continue to support the Syrian rebels. “Extremist groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria to expand their operations, which could include attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities,” Kirby stated. “Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and will continue to lose resources, perhaps even aircraft.”
In the meantime, Vladimir Putin ordered emergency civil defense and evacuation drills of a record number of 40 million-plus civilians from its major cities. Those drills, which took place on October 5, were unprecedented in size and scope, according to Oleg Manuilov, director of the Russian Civil Defense Department.
The country revealed that massive underground bunkers had been built to safeguard as many as 12 million citizens in Moscow alone. A nationwide broadcast of Zvezda, a station set up by the Russian Ministry of Defense, stated that “schizophrenics from America are sharpening nuclear weapons for Moscow.”
There have also been reports that Russia has moved nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad, an area on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Poland. Currently, the U.S. maintains a stockpile of approximately 7,500 nuclear weapons to Russia’s 8,400.
In an October 4 speech to the Association of the U.S. Army, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley admitted that “While we focused on the counter-terrorist fight, other countries — Russia, Iran, China, North Korea — went to school on us. They studied our doctrine, our tactics, our equipment, our organization, our training, our leadership. And, in turn, they revised their own doctrines, and they are rapidly modernizing their military today to avoid our strengths in hopes of defeating us at some point in the future.”
Milley offered a stern warning for Russia. “I want to be clear to those who wish to do us harm. The United States military — despite all of our challenges, despite our [operational] tempo, despite everything we have been doing — we will stop you, and we will beat you harder than you have ever been beaten before. Make no mistake about that.”
Milley quoted Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom Alexander Yakovenko as recently saying that “Russia can now fight a conventional war in Europe and win. Russia is the only nation that will remain relevant forever. Any other country is dispensable, and that includes the United States. We are at end game now.”
In stark words, Milley cautioned that any future war with Russia would take place in “highly populated urban areas” and “be highly lethal, unlike anything our Army has experienced at least since World War II. Our formations will likely have to be small; we will have to move constantly. On the future battlefield, if you stay in one place for longer than two or three hours, you will be dead… Make no mistake about it, we can now and we will … retain the capability to rapidly deploy,” he said, “and we will destroy any enemy anywhere, anytime.”