WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Donald Trump s threat of action against the Syrian regime places the United States and Russia at perhaps the greatest risk of conflict since the days of the Cold War.
No serious observer thinks Washington or Moscow want to fight each other over Bashar al-Assad s latest alleged use of banned chemical weapons on his country s civil war battlefield.
But the Syria conflict is a complex web of overlapping wars which have drawn in several world powers, and the risk of miscalculation is as high as Trump s Twitter rhetoric is provocative.
“I don t think we re at the Cuban missile crisis level, but we re getting pretty damn close,” Russia expert Boris Zilberman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told AFP.
“The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war,” Russian s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, told reporters following a closed-door meeting of the Security Council.
Asked if he meant war between the United States and Russia, he said: “We cannot exclude any possibilities unfortunately.”
Saturday s attack on the then rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta reportedly left more than 40 people dead, and dramatically raised the stakes for outside powers.
Trump, who unleashed a one-off US cruise missile salvo a year ago in response to a chemical attack blamed on Assad s forces, reacted with fury and threatened a renewed intervention.
President Vladimir Putin s Kremlin has deployed warplanes and troops to Syria to defend Assad s regime, and — as usual — issued a series of conflicting denials on his behalf.
By Wednesday, as Russian and Syrian forces took charge of the formerly rebel-held area that was bombed, Trump was explicitly threatening on Twitter to launch more missiles.
The White House said Trump had yet to reach a “final decision” following a Thursday meeting with his national security advisors — and would confer again with his French and British allies, Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May.
But a strike still seems more than likely after UN talks failed.