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Putin meets his defence chiefs, Russia prepares response to US Syrian missile strike

Yesterday, within hours of the US missile attack on Syria’s Sharyat air base, President Putin met with Russia’s Security Council to discuss the US attack.

Russia’s Security Council, for those who don’t know, is the highest decision making body of the Russian government.  It meets regularly every week under Putin’s chairmanship, and its remit covers every aspect of Russian policy.  This includes domestic and economic policy as well as foreign and defence policy.

All the most important people who make up Russia’s political leadership – including Prime Minister Medvedev and the speakers of the two houses of Russia’s parliament (the Duma and the Federation Council) – are members, and its membership is not confined to the heads of Russian defence and national security agencies, though of course all of them are members.

I would say in passing that it is one of the major omissions of Western reporting of Russia that the very existence of this key policy making body is barely known and in the Western media is never discussed.

Though the Security Council has regular weekly meetings, it can also meet in emergency session, and the meeting which was held yesterday was precisely that sort of meeting.  The Kremlin – as it invariably does – has provided a brief summary of what was discussed during the meeting, though as always the summary is brief and uninformative

There was a detailed discussion of the situation in Syria in the wake of the US missile strikes. Washington’s actions were again qualified as aggression and a violation of international law.

The meeting participants expressed deep concern about the inevitable negative consequences of this aggressive act on the common efforts to combat terrorism.

The parties said it is highly regrettable that the bilateral Russian-US relations were damaged as a result of the strikes on the Syrian air base.

The meeting also considered various issues related to the Russian Aerospace Forces’ continuing operation to support counterterrorism operations by the Syrian armed forces.

The participants also touched on the current issues on the domestic socioeconomic agenda.

The summary also provided a list of who attended the meeting.  As one might expect of a meeting arranged in haste and intended to discuss a national security and defence issue – the US missile strike on Syria – those present were the heads of Russia’s defence and intelligence agencies.  Apart from Prime Minister Medvedev civilian officials such as Foreign Minister Lavrov and the speakers of the two houses of Russia’s parliament were not present.

There has been some speculation in the West that the US missile strike on Syria will lead to a reappraisal of Russian policy and will give the US more leverage in negotiations over Syria with the Russians.

The Kremlin’s summary of the discussion at Russia’s Security Council suggests that nothing could be further from the truth.  Not only do the Russians qualify the US attack as “aggression and a violation of international law”.  The words “the meeting also considered various issues related to the Russian Aerospace Forces’ continuing operation to support counterterrorism operations by the Syrian armed forces” suggest that far from planning a pull-back the Russians are intent on escalation.  The very first step the Russians took after the Security Council meeting – and which was undoubtedly ordered by it – the closure of the hotline between the US and Russian militaries in Syria – suggests the same thing.

The reason for that decision by the way is that the Russians almost certainly feel that the US used information provided by the Russians through the hotline to determine where Russian military personnel are posted in Syria.  In that way the US was able to strike at Sharyat air base knowing there were either no or very few Russian personnel there.  The Russians would see no reason to ‘help’ the US carry out more air or missile strikes on Syria by providing them with that sort of information in future, and they have now taken the necessary steps to ensure that that information is no longer provided.

Another decision which we know that the Security Council took was to take measures to beef up Syria’s air defence forces.  The Russian military has already announced that this is what is going to happen, and over the next few weeks steps to that effect will start to be taken.

The fundamental mistake Western pundits who press for military escalation by the West in Syria repeatedly make is that they consistently underestimate the other side’s resolve.  Ever since the start of the Syrian conflict every move the Western powers and their Gulf and Turkish allies have made in their campaign to overthrow President Assad’s government has been at least matched by an equivalent and often stronger counter-move, whether taken by the Syrians or by the Syrians’ Russian and Iranian allies.  Those who know the history of the Vietnam war will be familiar with this pattern, and with the Western blindness which leads to it.  In the decades since the Vietnam war ended nothing in that respect seems to have changed.

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