Russia denounces Obama Plan for Syria Air Strikes as Violation of Int’l Law

By Juan Cole

Russia on Thursday pushed back against President Obama’s state plans for taking on the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) in Syria.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich remarked on television: “The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against ISIL positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government,” “This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”

The Russian ambassador to the United States, Vitaly Churkin insisted that the Syrian government would have to give its consent, otherwise the operation to bomb ISIL in Syria “will complicate international operations and will pose problems for Russia as well as for many other countries respecting international law, including China. . . Respect for international law is necessary so that the international community is able to take consolidated actions on a problem as complicated as this one and if it [the US] opts for such actions, its choice will be highly regrettable and will create obstacles for further cooperation…”

Russia is divided over the new US initiative. It is desperately afraid of ISIL (in which Chechen fighters serve) and happy enough that the US had decided to intervene against it. But it doesn’t want the US overthrowing Bashar al-Assad and trying to turn Syria into a US sphere of influence.

Britain’s government is divided over the international legality of any bombing raids on Syria. Foreign Minister Philip Hammond had ruled out British air strikes on that country but Prime Minister David Cameron says that they are still on the table.

For my overview of the legal issues, see this blog entry

ISIL in Iraq is unambiguous, and there the Obama administration has Russia and Iran as behind the scenes allies in defeating the terrorist organization. ISIL in Syria is also opposed by Russia and Iran, but they want the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad to be the beneficiary of ISIL’s defeat. The Obama administration imagines that there is still a “moderate” opposition that it can back against both ISIL and al-Assad.

In essence then, in Iraq the outside great powers are on the same page. But in Syria, the Obama administration is setting up a future proxy war between itself and Russia once ISIL is defeated (if it can be), not so dissimilar from the Reagan proxy war in Afghanistan, which helped created al-Qaeda and led indirectly to the 9/11 attacks on the US. Obama had earlier argued against arming Syrian factions. My guess is that Saudi Arabia and other US allies in the region made tangible backing for the Free Syrian Army on Obama’s part a quid pro quo for joining in the fight against ISIL.

In Jedda, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the situation in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine were not so tragic, Russian expressions of concern over international law in Syria would be laughable. Kerry secured support for the US push against ISIL from 10 Middle Eastern countries in Jedda, though it remains to be seen whether this resolution is more than lip service.


Related Video:

RT: “US strikes, intervention against ISIS in Syria could turn against army’

27 Responses

  1. Regarding Kerry’s comments about Ukraine, it seems that one could say much the same about U.S. policy. We seem to operate on the assumption that it is fine for us to meddle in other countries, but objectionable when others do so, regardless of the history and facts of the case.

    • Oh, exactly. Ukraine is in Russia’s back yard and historically a part of Russian empires/confederations. Since when has the Mideast been the 51st state of the USA? Or is it just Israel?

      • Here we go again. Ukraine has a no right to its own sovereignty because it is in Russia’s imaginary back yard. Next you will be calling it “The Ukraine”.

        Urkraine is an independent country, with its own language and its own culture. As a sovereign state it has every right to establish its own destiny.

        And your history is way way off. First, there is only one Russian federation(singular not plural). Ukraine has never been a part of this federation.

        Yes, it was part of tsarist Russia a 100 years ago, but it was also part of Poland and, at another time, part of Lithuania. 800 years ago it was also an independent state.

        “During the 10th and 11th centuries, it became the largest and most powerful state in Europe.[31] In the following centuries, it laid the foundation for the national identity of Ukrainians and Russians.[32] Kiev, the capital of modern Ukraine, became the most important city of the Rus’.”

  2. Israel is rated 13th in military strength internationally, without the nuclear option – has 187,000 active front-line personnel and 565,000 active reserve personnel, as well as 3870 tanks, 656 aircraft, 65 naval vessels and a military budget of $15, 209,000,000. So my question and thought on the matter is, why isn’t Israel contributing to the Obama initiative on the eradication of Isis from it’s neighbours and it’s own borders.
    When the perceived opponent is a weak entity living in a Israeli created ghetto armed with only bottle rockets and stones, the Israelis have no problem using their tremendous firepower without discrimination to attack on a pretext of security concerns.

    • Actually it may well be an Israeli plane that just happened to be flying over Syrian antiaircraft batteries. But any provocation agent will do.

      • Assad didn’t fire on Israeli planes when they dropped bombs on the outskirts of Damascus just a few months ago. Assad isn’t foolish enough to give Bibi a reason to cut loose on Syria the way Israel did on southern Lebanon in 2006.

        The leaders in every Muslim country know Bibi wouldn’t hesitate to give them the Gaza treatment if he thought Israel was threatened.

        • Hezbollah successfully used anti-aircraft and air-to sea missiles against Israel in the Second Lebanon War in addition to deadly rocket attacks on cities such as Haifa – Israel hasn’t invaded Lebanon since.

          That said, I agree that Assad likely fears offending Israel in the least. The last thing the Baathists need is facing another armed incursion to spread their armed forces even thinner within Syria.

        • I don’t know how effective Hezbollah anti-aircraft attacks were since Israel bombed Lebanon at will. The reason Israel hasn’t invaded Lebanon again is because Hezbollah’s ground defenses, especially their anti-tank weapons, stopped Israel COLD.

          Bombing cities like Damascus would be difficult to stop. Plus, Netanyahu is BAT SHIT CRAZY.

  3. Rod in Holland

    Good plan: bomb ISIS and at the same time strike Assad – neatly getting around Congress and public opinion! For the win…!

  4. Oh, man. If this wasn’t an American-led Crusade in 2003, it’s sure turned into one. Just superimpose, paper doll-like, chain mail and swords on the players, and substitute flying machines for cavalry, and we’ve got ourselves some real fine Medieval imagery to entertain us from afar. Maybe the problem is that we’re both too bored and too insecure.

  5. The criticism of Russia appears to be very correct. Kerry’s attempt to make the Crimea actions of Russia look like violations of international law, appear to be wildly hypocritical, as he certainly knew in advance of the US subversion of the troubled democracy there, and of the US decision to engage in military subversion on the borders of non-enemy Russia.

    The US would not attack IS in Syria without Assad’s approval if it were not attempting to provoke conflict with Assad for the benefit of Israel. Unless an agreement with Assad is in place and kept secret for political reasons, we will likely soon be told that a US plane was shot down by Syria and that retaliations are in progress. This will be scheduled for pro-Israel contributions to the mid-term campaigns.

  6. Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are in Russia’s back yard, like when Russia ‘invaded’ Cuba in the early 60’s (Remember it almost triggered a nuclear holocaust!). I mean. NATO squeezed Russia; we tweaked the Bear and it roared back. How is that the same as going 8,000 miles and causing death and destruction like the U.S.?!

    We have no moderate allies in Syria so that’s a fiasco waiting to happen with any stupid, mindless, bombing campaign. In Iraq it’ll be deja vu all over again (as Yogi would say), with he Kurds, Shia and us against the Sunni. Abadi is no different than Maliki and the Sunnis will be excluded again! Like Julie said this will be ideal for Israel, with the Arabs killing each other and it getting a pass for its brutal genocide of the Palestinians!

  7. It’s obvious that the U.S. does not view itself as limited by international law, certainly in cases where its supposed national security is concerned (was the assassination of Bin Laden consonant with such law?). As the world’s most powerful nation it is also the freest to disregard such international strictures; no doubt many other countries would prefer the reality, if not the impropriety, of such relatively illimited operational license.

    But where is the evidence that “Russia is…desperately afraid of ISIL…and happy enough that the US had decided to intervene against it”? ISIS is indifferentiable (despite what much–but not all–of the U.S. policy establishment has said), as there is nothing uniquely ominous about it, being as it is but a manifestation of a far more monstrous and indomitable condition: that of the multi-operative dynamics of ethnic and sectarian survival and destruction “atavized” and energized by prolonged “a-statality.” The perception of a necessity of prolonging and (at least episodically) intensifying attritional disorder, by powers external and regional, is the true ominous force haunting the region. ISIS’s “degradation,” even to the point of nullity, would not in itself resolve or transform such an underlying perniciously anti-human reality, having, as it has, been crescendoed by what has become an oscillative and self-dynamizing force of factors and not by one simplistically self-determining/fate-mastering actor. Other “ISISes” would soon form and occupy the critical void of Iraq’s Babylonian plain unless the statal dynamic is permanently transformed in the “Shia Crescent.” And is this not precisely the real “desperate” fear of Russia’s, that the U.S. will use the pretext of an ephemerality such as ISIS to permanently remove the few non-hegemonically allied bloc(k)s, i.e. Syria and Iran, impeding its triumviral strategy (with Israel and Saudi Arabia) in the region? As Kissinger recently expressed: ” Iran [has] the opportunity to reconstruct the ancient Persian Empire…From a geo-strategic point of view, I consider Iran a bigger problem than ISIS.” Conspicuously he did not say anything about Russia, or even Iran, perceiving ISIS as a “problem” commensurate with a “geo-strategic, permanent reality.” But rather that the aforesaid were concerned with extending or preserving their territorial “patrimony” from the grasp of the U.S (and, by extension, those in its camp and under its shield). link to

      • Does this count as Russian press? “Russia’s Corruption Stokes ISIS Terrorism”, link to

        Seems like the selfish idiots with their self-serving behaviors on all sides, the Few who have goose-stepped and frog-marched all us ordinary people into this pit, are fungible across whatever arbitrary lines of loyalty and difference one cares to favor.

        Gee, I wonder what the policy to defeat that might be?

  8. Hmmm. Russia is presently occupying, in clear violation of international law, two chunks of territory internationally recognized as part of the Republic of Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), one large chunk of territory internationally recognized as part of Ukraine (Crimea) as well as having its rather obvious proxies occupying another chunk (Dombass). Of course there are various pretexts they have (claiming South Ossetia and Abkhazia are independent countries, and same with Crimea before annexing it), but these are illegal occupations all the same, and Russia can avoid Security Council sanction only due to their veto power there.

    I realize the US and other countries are not exactly without similar issues, but the Russian government has the chutzpah to lecture others about acts of aggression and international law??? Please.

  9. It’s the pot and the kettle arguing over which one is blacker, though if one were to tally it up the U.S. is far in the lead these days.

    In a more honest world neither the U.S. nor Russia would be allowed to utter the phrase “International Law” without the room doubling over in derisive laughter.

    As Orwell, among others, recognized when it was being negotiated, the fatal flaw in the UN system is that there is no enforcement mechanism for violations by permanent members of the security council. So in practice it’s one set of laws for the weak countries, and another for the great powers. All countries are equal, but some are more equal than others . . .

    • “So in practice it’s one set of laws for the weak countries, and another for the great powers.” A pretty succinct characterization of the nature of the “rule of law” WITHIN so many nations, also, including of course the US and Israel and most everywhere else. There’s the myth, to provide cover and faux legitimacy and keep the proles in line, and then there’s the reality…

  10. The Russian government is being hypocritical an inconsistent in this case.

    That Ukraine borders Russia (the so-called in “Russia’s backyard” argument) is not sufficient grounds for a covert, and increasingly overt (at least until the ceasefire), invasion of the country. The occupation and annexation of Crimea is illegal as is Russia’s military intervention in eastern Ukraine.

    The claim that states can partition and occupy portions of a neighboring country because it is in its sphere of influence/”backyard” is an imperialist view. Russia was in no sense provoked to invade Ukraine. What happened is that Putin lost a political bet and tried to save face.

    • You know, in a world where every man and his dog has a mobile phone, and even the cheapest of mobile phones have (a) a camera and (b) an internet connection you’d think that SOMEBODY would have taken some photos of those sneaky, sneaky invadin’ russkies.

      But, no, apparently not.

      They remain, to this very day, much-talked-about but never-photographed.

      Perhaps they aren’t Russian invaders at all.

      Maybe they are Yeti’s, and we are all mistaking the fur for winter camouflage.

      Or maybe it’s Big Foot, and the big fella’ just darn got himself lost….
      rong foot….

    • Not only did Putin save face, he cleverly trumped the neocon moves in Ukraine. Of course, taking Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine was illegal, but Putin will not let NATO just move in and cut Russia off from having a port on the Black Sea. Putin knows if he didn’t have a force in eastern Ukraine, then Crimea would be the next target.

      Putin is a thug, but so are the neocons. They both use force to get what they want. International law is just for the ‘lil countries and other weak sisters.

  11. “Backyard” and the US: kind of like the Monroe Doctrine and its neo-extensions to the ME and Africa and SE Asia…?

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