Syria: nuclear flashpoint

The US on Oct. 4 announced it is suspending talks with Russia over the Syria war, citing the Kremlin's support of the Bashar Assad regime in the brutal bombing campaign on the besieged city of Aleppo. Secretary of State John Kerry days later called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime. Despite the seeming lack of anyone left to negotiative with, he still insisted: "We aren't going to leave the multilateral field, we are going to continue to try to find a way forward in order to end this war." (Jurist, Oct. 7; NYTFox News, Oct. 4) All indications point to further escalation. Moscow's Defense Ministry cautioned the US against carrying out air-strikes on Assad's forces, darkly adding that Russia now has air-defense missiles operational in Syria. Russia has just installed S-400 and S-300 air-defense systems at the Tartus naval base and Khmeimim air-base in the Assad regime's coastal stronghold of Latakia. The radius of the weapons reach may be "a surprise," the Defense Ministry's Gen. Igor Konashenkov boasted. (RT, Oct. 6; BBC, Oct. 4)

All this comes as Moscow is moving nuclear-capable 500-kilometer-range Iskander-M missiles into Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. (Reuters, Oct. 7) It also comes amid frighteningly bellicose rhetoric. The Defense Ministry's Zvezda TV network said last week: "Schizophrenics from America are sharpening nuclear weapons for Moscow." Officials said on that underground shelters have been prepared to house 12 milion people—enough for the entire population of Moscow. (Yahoo, Oct. 4)

US Army chief Gen. Mark Milley responded with a bellicose address of his own, boasting that the Pentagon is ready to beat "any enemy, anywhere, any time," and including barely-veiled threats to Russia: "I want to be clear to those that wish to do us harm…. We will beat you harder than you have ever been beaten before." (The Sun, Oct. 6)

President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 3 announced that Russia is pulling out of the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), which established terms for weapons-grade plutonium disposal by both superpowers. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the move was a "necessary" response to hostile actions by the US, citing sanctions over the Ukraine crisis and the bolstering of NATO's forces near Russia's borders. Moscow also cited Obama's recent move to shut down the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, calling it an abrogation of the PMDA. (Forbes, Oct. 5; AFP, Oct. 3)

We've been noting the steady escalation toward this—growing instances of unnerving brinkmanship in the Black Sea, the establishment of Washington's "missile shield" in Eastern Europe, the largest NATO maneuvers since the (supposed) end of the Cold War. The "anti-war" crowd will of course now protest the US war moves—too little, and too late. They have been silent (if not squarely on the wrong side) for five years as the situation in Syria has hideously escalated. That is what has led to this.

For instance Michael Klare in The Nation warns: "The United States and NATO Are Preparing for a Major War with Russia." Yet The Nation continues to run such ugly and propagandistic Syria stories as James Carden's "War Hawks Are Sensing an Opening in Syria." The sickening introdek: "Yet the horrific tragedy now unfolding is partially the result of the West's support for the overthrow of Syria's secular government by radical Sunni fundamentalists." And the (always predictableStephen Cohen (now an open Trump enthusiast) writes in "Slouching Toward War With Russia in Syria" that: "The proposed Obama-Putin cooperation was killed by its enemies in Washington, with dire implications." Right, the US should have joined with Russia in the slaughter Aleppo in the name of "cooperation." Note how for these "anti-war" voices, the Syrians are mere pawns on the great chessboard.

Some "left" media are, belatedly, waking up. Natalie Nougayrède writes in The Guardian: "We are watching the destruction of Aleppo. Where is the rage?"

Where are the demonstrations in western capitals to denounce the brutal onslaught on Aleppo? Around 300,000 people are exposed to carpet bombing, including bunker-busting and fragmentation ordnance. Is the weather so bad that no one wants to stand on a square, or in front of a Russian embassy? Or does no one care? Does no one think protesting would make a difference?

Where indeed? We can hear already the dishonest admonishment that we should only protest the crimes of our own government. But this breaks down entirely when "anti-war" voices actively spread the war propaganda of the "other" side. The destruction of Syria for five years by Assad's sectarian (not "secular") and fascistic dictatorship, culminating in the current horror in Aleppo, is the massive, overwhelming context for the current Moscow-Washington face-down.

Even establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria will be summarily rejected as war moves—and indeed it does hold risk of direct US-Russia confrontation in the skies of Syria, with potential consequences of unparalleled catastrope. That said, the people in Aleppo who are desperately demanding a no-fly zone at least deserve a hearing.

The notion that Syrians should keep dying to preserve world peace (such as it is) is not a particularly principled or courageous position.

  1. Appeals court turns down bid to halt MOX plant closure

    A multibillion-dollar energy project in South Carolina is now all but dead thanks to a ruling by the Fourth Circuit, which found that the state does not have standing to fight the plant's closure by the Energy Department. The mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel plant has already cost the federal government billions and was years behind schedule, noted the Jan. 8 ruling.

    The proposed facility at the Savannah River site was first conceived in 1997, but construction has dragged on ever since. It was designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel forUS power plants, but the process, once hailed as a solution to addressing excess weapons and the growing demand for nuclear power, is also considered dirty, dangerous and expensive by critics. (Courthouse News Service)