How Trump can pile pressure on Putin and Assad

Russia gets plenty of practice at pulling its poker face these days.At the United Nations, it has recently ...

Posted: Apr 10, 2018 5:27 PM
Updated: Apr 10, 2018 5:27 PM

Russia gets plenty of practice at pulling its poker face these days.

At the United Nations, it has recently denied all knowledge of the use of chemical weapons, be it in Syria or the United Kingdom.

Its ambassador to the UN accused America of gambling with the future: "Do you understand the dangerous threshold to which you are bringing the world?" Vassily Nebenzia asked his US counterpart, Nikki Haley.

Yet it is Russia that seems to insist on this style of confrontation, where it acts in its own interests, then dares the world to take action.

Though that's not how Russia sees it. Nebenzia plays Russia as the victim: "Russia is being unpardonably threatened," he said.

That Russia's international credibility is largely shot -- witness the record worldwide expulsion of Russian diplomats recently -- appears to have not yet sunk in.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a track record of reaching again and again for what he wants. At times, he gambles on outcomes, like international reaction, that he cannot control.

He got away with it to a degree over the annexation of Crimea and fomenting unrest in Eastern Ukraine, mostly weathering the sanctions storm that followed.

Backing President Bashar al-Assad in Syria so soon after his westward incursions looked at first like another folly with an uncertain outcome. Yet, over time, Russian forces stabilized Assad's loses and turned the tide in his favor. Putin's risk, apparently, was rewarded.

Meddling in the US and other elections might have made the Russian President feel that he'd played another winning hand. Initially, he got what he wanted: not Hilary Clinton, whom he despised, but the other contender, Donald Trump.

But be careful what you wish for: Taking that risk may have come back to bite Putin. His reward has been heavy sanctions, resulting in Russia's ruble falling in value, as well as doing financial damage to several of Putin's closet oligarch friends.

Undoubtedly, he intends to recover from the impact. His foreign ministry promised a "harsh response".

What that could be, however, remains unclear. Maybe another foray of troops toward -- or even into -- Ukraine, reigniting the embers of resentment there. Such action could distract international attention from what he cares about more: the Russian economy and Syria.

As with any gambler, debts can mount fast -- as Putin saw last month with the expulsion of 150 of his diplomats. But an even bigger bill may be coming due at the United Nations.

On multiple occasions now, Russia has been blamed for not convincing Assad to faithfully negotiate peace in Syria.

In December 2015, Russia voted to support the unanimously passed UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which committed Assad to a transition from power.

At each of the UN peace talks since, when push has come to shove, Russia has failed to live up to its part of the agreement and persuade Assad that he must go.

As Russian air power is a principle force keeping Assad's enemies at bay, Putin undoubtedly has the clout to follow through on what his diplomats signed up for in New York. But he hasn't, and each time he doesn't, what little trust he had at the United Nations has ebbed away.

Russia was the guarantor that Assad would make good on his commitment to get rid of his chemical weapons, of which the OPCW -- the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- was led to believe it oversaw the complete destruction in June 2014.

The OPCW and UN's own evidence now shows that was all a lie. Assad either didn't get rid of all his chemical weapons or he started making them again.

The UN created an investigative body -- Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM -- to determine with the OPCW who used what chemical weapons in Syria. Of six incidents, two were found to be ISIS, four by Assad's regime.

Any doubt that Russia wasn't fulfilling its obligations was blown away when it refused late last year to renew the mandate of the JIM.

If Russia has nothing to hide, the logic goes, then why effectively ban the only organization with the international backing to apportion blame for chemical weapons attacks?

Perhaps the end of Russia's credibility on the subject of chemical weapons came in the past few weeks, when it claimed that terrorist groups were planning to fabricate an outrage near Damascus.

After years of gambling no one would call it out on its nefarious plots, Russia seemed to ask for too much. How long can disbelief be suspended with such a track record as Russia has revealed?

Which leaves the United Nations waiting to see if Russia will accept an international investigation to find who was responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus or, more importantly, if it won't?

As Russia is failing once again to put pressure on Assad, the next course of action may be for Trump and his allies to use pressure of their own: military strikes.

Last year, Trump fired off 59 cruise missiles at a single military base suspected of being a chemical weapons load point for Assad's aircraft, with little overall effect.

Right now, I wouldn't gamble against limited strikes closer to Assad's own personal interests: houses, palaces, holiday homes.

No single strike is going to turn the tide of the war. But it might just apply enough pressure to Russia that it starts living in the real world -- and transition Assad from power.

Terre Haute
Partly Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 52°
Robinson
Clear
53° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 53°
Indianapolis/Eagle Creek
Cloudy
50° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 50°
Paris
Mostly Cloudy
51° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 51°
Mattoon/Charleston
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 52°
Terre Haute
Partly Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 52°
Terre Haute
Partly Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 52°
Sunny and cool!
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1309459

Reported Deaths: 24018
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook5245929847
DuPage869211254
Will72209968
Lake64862965
Kane55955753
Winnebago31341460
Madison29912515
St. Clair27220504
McHenry27207278
Peoria21504284
Champaign19902139
Sangamon17870230
McLean17096171
Tazewell16095259
Rock Island14319305
Kankakee13576199
Kendall1241790
LaSalle11835232
Macon10284190
DeKalb9390118
Vermilion9101127
Adams8231117
Williamson7229126
Whiteside6913164
Boone642971
Ogle579978
Clinton570890
Grundy562971
Coles554894
Knox5344137
Jackson486763
Henry474863
Effingham468471
Livingston461883
Macoupin460681
Stephenson454280
Woodford443063
Marion4415115
Franklin433770
Monroe431790
Jefferson4167119
Randolph409684
Lee400151
Morgan377679
Logan365456
Fulton364850
Montgomery364773
Bureau355181
Christian352772
Fayette314054
Perry313059
Iroquois291064
Jersey263549
McDonough261144
Douglas255335
Saline251453
Lawrence239525
Shelby225037
Union223040
Crawford209325
Bond198924
Cass194824
Pike177451
Jo Daviess176824
Clark176732
Warren173946
Wayne173452
Hancock173030
Richland172140
Carroll171736
Ford170746
Edgar166939
White166526
Washington162825
Moultrie157526
Clay147343
Mason142842
Greene142433
Piatt141914
Johnson139814
De Witt139723
Mercer136933
Wabash134112
Massac131439
Cumberland128319
Menard118812
Jasper114317
Marshall99817
Hamilton82415
Schuyler7095
Brown6916
Pulaski6807
Stark61223
Edwards55812
Henderson52114
Calhoun5122
Scott4691
Alexander46211
Gallatin4534
Putnam4483
Hardin37012
Pope3073
Out of IL70
Unassigned02296

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 710607

Reported Deaths: 13248
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion968581722
Lake51908949
Allen39337672
Hamilton34643406
St. Joseph34306543
Elkhart27477432
Vanderburgh22099394
Tippecanoe21927213
Porter17987301
Johnson17571374
Hendricks16854310
Clark12715190
Madison12367337
Vigo12240244
Monroe11510166
LaPorte11204204
Delaware10382184
Howard9698211
Kosciusko9165114
Hancock8014139
Bartholomew7913155
Warrick7702155
Floyd7568176
Wayne6917198
Grant6855171
Boone6568100
Morgan6414138
Dubois6091117
Marshall5801109
Dearborn571276
Cass5698104
Henry5588101
Noble543683
Jackson494172
Shelby481395
Lawrence4349118
Gibson429589
Harrison429171
Clinton420953
Montgomery418986
DeKalb413284
Whitley382239
Huntington379780
Miami373365
Knox367189
Steuben367157
Putnam353460
Jasper352546
Wabash348178
Adams338253
Ripley335469
Jefferson318080
White308854
Daviess289999
Wells286881
Decatur279592
Fayette277362
Greene271085
Posey269533
Scott261553
Clay255445
LaGrange255470
Randolph236080
Washington231631
Spencer228131
Jennings225448
Fountain209345
Sullivan208042
Starke206252
Owen192756
Fulton192140
Jay186429
Carroll186120
Perry181436
Orange178353
Rush170824
Vermillion166343
Franklin166035
Tipton161543
Parke144616
Blackford133931
Pike130734
Pulaski114345
Newton104234
Brown100740
Crawford97914
Benton97413
Martin83115
Warren80215
Switzerland7698
Union70110
Ohio56011
Unassigned0408