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Russia may have bluffed its way out of a direct hit in Syria

Vladimir Putin gestures with his hand.
Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Joshua Yaffa argues in the New Yorker that Russia’s threats of retaliation in advance of U.S.-led strikes in Syria may have prevented direct confrontation with the U.S. “for now.”

What Russia was doing, per Yaffa: Delivering “a measured dose of faux insanity…to make up for a gaping disparity in conventional military and economic strength.”

Russia's threats, per Yaffa:

  • “Russia’s top military officer, warned that Moscow would shoot down missiles fired at Syrian territory — and, what’s more, if Russian forces came under threat, would strike back by targeting launch facilities and platforms.”
  • "Other Russian officials were more muted, saying Russia would act only if its forces sustained a direct hit."
  • “Then, last week, Russia’s Ambassador to Lebanon said that any and all American missiles would be shot down, and their launch sites targeted."
  • “That whipped up fears of a direct U.S.-Russian military confrontation.”

Result:

  • “An official close to the Assad regime told Reuters, ‘We had an early warning of the strike from the Russians.’”
  • “The Syrian military bases and facilities struck by the United States, United Kingdom, and France, were not targets of particular significance to Russian military operations in Syria or locations that housed Russian troops or equipment.”

What’s ahead:

  • Potential U.S.-Russia conflict: “The latest air strikes do nothing to change the battlefield dynamics in Syria or the course of the war—which is to say, a U.S.-Russian showdown over Syria has most likely been delayed rather than avoided entirely.”
  • Sanctions: “For now, the immediate theatre for U.S.-Russian confrontation will likely shift to sanctions" — although this week Trump hit pause on new sanctions and Russia slowed potential countermeasures.

Read the article in full: “Russia’s ‘Madman’ Routine in Syria May Have Averted Direct Confrontation with the U.S., For Now

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