As fast as Russia’s national security officials come up with conspiracies theories about U.S. military intervention in Syria, American experts attempt to debunk them.  

What consequences will the regime change bring about in Syria? Photo: Reuters

The round table discussion “Military Strike on Syria: Possible Consequences,” which brought together Russian military experts and specialists in international relations, attracted considerable interest from foreign observers and experts. These round table speakers shared their views on the Syrian impasse, a hypothetical U.S.-led intervention and the implications of a Syria intervention for the rest of the world.

One of the round table speakers, General Sergey Kanchukov, an expert in national security and defense, expressed his concerns regarding the much discussed and anticipated intervention in Syria and its consequences for Russia – especially the Sochi Olympics.

“Syria is a small copy of Russia,” he said, pointing out the probable threats of Russia. “The U.S. is working out the very scenarios that can be applied to Russia later. Any military conflict has obvious political goals and the hidden ones. What I am talking about can be projected to Russia as well.”

According to General Kanchukov, while the obvious goals deal with the spreading of democracy, defending human rights and offering humanitarian aid, the hidden intentions might aim at undermining the situation in Syria. Afterwards, it might mean provoking militants to come to the Caucasus and disrupt the Sochi Olympics. When asked about the direct interest of the U.S. in undermining the Sochi Olympics, he responded that, while the Sochi Olympics are demonstrating Russia’s global influence and good economic standing, Russia’s rivals are more interested in hampering this growing international heft.

In contrast, U.S. experts interviewed by Russia Direct question these assumptions but, at the same time, don’t rule out the further destabilization of the region.

“I do not agree, as some claim, that through its impending actions in Syria, the Obama Administration is trying to undermine stability in Russia on the eve of the Sochi Olympics or provoke concerted action by the mujahedin to carry out attacks in Sochi,” said Gordon Hahn, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

At the same time, he admits that attacks in Sochi could be one result of the U.S.-led operation in Syria. 

“The Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin, or at least elements among them, have been promising to attack the Games since 2010 and their Amir Doku Umarov called on the mujahedin to attack Sochi in order to prevent the Games from being held and to attack the Games if they begin,” he said.

According to Hahn, North Caucasian jihadists are playing a prominent role in the jihadi wing of the anti-Assad forces and perhaps the leading role among the foreign mujahedin, who hail from across the world and include not just North Caucasians but Tatars and ethnic Russians from Russia, Azerbaijanis, Crimean Tatars, and Central Asians from across the former Soviet Union.

“Unfortunately, President Putin has not been able to articulate this threat to Russia specifically in connection with the situation in Syria because such a statement by him would probably tell on the success of the Games by raising fears among potential attendees,” he said. “What makes the situation worse is that this danger threatens U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East as well. This makes it imperative that the U.S., Europe, and Russia work together to fight this grave threat. Assad and his forces may actually be less of a threat than the Sunni jihadi threat in Syria."

Likewise, at the round table, Ruslan Pukhov, Director of the Center of Analysis and Technologies, warned against “highly negative consequences for the world order” and compared the Syrian operation with the previous military strikes led by the U.S in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya.

“Syria is one of the parts in this chain,” he said. According to him, the United States is making every effort to decrease the threat of nuclear war. At the same time, he points out that the military strike and the regime change in Syria may be a warning signal for other sovereign countries like Malaysia that they also might be invaded under different pretexts.

“And the only to way to prevent this aggression is to follow the North Korean path and acquire a nuclear bomb [and publicize it],” he said. “Americans seem to strengthen the non-proliferation regime with one hand, while showing with the other hand that the only means of defense is the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. And this is very disappointing.”

When asked about the role of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the decisions of the U.S. presidential administration, Pukhov said the relations between these governments are under the influence of certain interest groups, both commercial and religious.


“There are lot of such connections between the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” he said making parallels with French-Qatari relations. “It seems to be obvious that Qatar is the country that bought the French political elite, according to some information leaks. And the current French president as well as his predecessor [depend on] the ‘salary of Qatari sheikhs.’ And this might account for the military spirit of [French President François] Holland who is ready to fight [in Syria]. Maybe this decision was taken not in Paris but in Qatar?”

Hahn doesn’t agree: “Such conspiracy theories as the one above and others, such as the U.S. being under pressure of the Saudis and Qatar, mistake incompetence for conspiracy on the part of the Obama Administration’s Syria and Arab Spring policies,” he said.

Far from being under pressure by Arab oil sheikhs driving President Obama’s policies, the White House’s decision is rather “the leftist-liberal orientation of the U.S. administration” that tries to make up for real and perceived previous mistakes by the West in the region, he believes.  And revolution against post-colonial regimes and the desire to use the U.S. military in defense of the ‘international community’ through humanitarian intervention seems to be an attempt to correct those mistakes, Hahn believes.

“This was the instinct behind President Obama’s ‘red line’, which once crossed over by Assad, had to be defended in order to both save the face of the president and U.S. prestige so further humanitarian interventions can be waged,” he said.

According to Majid Rafizadeh, president of the International American Council on Middle East and contributing editor for Harvard International Review, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are likely to "put pressure on the U.S. to take specific actions." Yet although the U.S. may look into those requests, it will "first and foremost pursue its own national and security interests," he said.

"Undoubtedly, geopolitical, economic and strategic allies consider each other's policies and concerns," he added. "The U.S. will definitely make sure to consult Qatari and Saudi's leaders for implementing any new foreign policies in the Middle East."

When asked about a possible compromise between Moscow and Washington, Hahn didn’t see any opportunity for common ground between Russia and the U.S. on Syria.      

“Unfortunately, I fear the Obama Administration will not take Russia’s position into account, but I think Russia’s concerns over President Obama’s rush to intervene and the U.S. administration’s failure to present concrete evidence as to who carried out the chemical attacks are real, important, and should be addressed,” he said.

Rafizadeh argues that "the geopolitical gap between Washington and Moscow are too deep to bridge" to reach any compromise.

"Unless the U.S. or Russia dramatically change their positions on Assad, it is difficult to envision any mutual agreement," he explains.