from The Saker, via UNZ:
In view of the total failure of the US policy to regime-change Syria and overthrow Assad, the time has now come for the United States to make a fundamental choice: to negotiate or double down. Apparently, Kerry and others initially tried to negotiate, but the Pentagon decided otherwise, treacherously broke the terms of the agreement and (illegally) bombed the Syrian forces. At which point, Kerry, Power and the rest of them felt like they had no choice but to “join” the Pentagon and double down. Now the US “warns” Russia that if the Aleppo offensive continues, the US will not resume negotiations. This is a rather bizarre threat considering that the US is clearly unable to stick to any agreement and that the Russians have already concluded that the US is “not-agreement-capable”. The Russia reaction was predictable: Lavrov’s admitted that he could not even take his American colleagues seriously.
Okay, so both sides are fed-up with each other. What comes next?
The US will send more weapons to Daesh, including MANPAD s, TOW s andJavelins. The effect of that will be marginal. Russian fixed-wing aircraft fly at over 5,000m where they are out of reach from MANPADs. They are currently the main provider of firepower support for the Syrians. Russian combat helicopters, while probably not immune to MANPADs, are still very resistant to such attacks due to three factors—survivability, weapons range and tactics: Mi-28s and Ka-52 have missiles with a maximum range of 10km and the way they are typically engaged is in a kind of ‘rotation’ where one helicopters flies to acquire the target, fires, immediately turns back and is replaced by the next one. In this matter they all protect each other while presenting a very difficult target to hit. Russian transport helicopters would, however, be at a much higher risk of being shot down by a US MANPAD. So, yes, if the US floods the Syrian theater with MANPADS, Syrian aircraft and Russian transport helicopters will be put at risk, but that will not be enough to significantly affect Russian or Syrian operations.
Russian escalatory options are far more diverse: Russia can send more T-90 tanks (which TOWs, apparently, cannot defeat), more artillery (especially modern multiple rocket launchers and heavy flamethrower systems like the TOS-1). The Russian Aerospace forces could also decide to engage in much heavier airstrikes including the use of cluster and thermobaric munitions. Finally, Russia could send in actual ground forces ranging in size from a few battalions to, in theory, a full-size brigade. The problem with that option is that this would mark a major increase in the commitment of Russian forces to this war, something which a lot of Russians would oppose. Still, since the Iranians and, especially, Hezbollah have been used like a “fire brigade” to “plug” the holes in the front created by various defeats of Syrian army units, it is not impossible that the Russians might commit a combined-arms battalion tactical group to a crucial segment of the front and then withdraw it as soon as possible. The purpose of this strategy would be double: to support the struggling Syrians with as much firepower as possible while, at the same time, slowly but surely bleeding the Daesh forces until they reach a breaking point. Basically, the same strategy as before the ceasefire.
So why did the Russians agree to that ceasefire in the first place?
Because of the long held belief that a bad ceasefire is better than a good war, because Russia is trying hard not to escalate the confrontation with the US and because Russia believes that time is on her side. I am pretty sure that the Russian military would have preferred to do without that ceasefire, but I am equally sure that they were also okay with trying it out and seeing. This is the old contradiction: westerners also want results *now*, while the Russians always take their time and move very slowly. That is why to a western audience the Kremlin under Putin is always “late” or “hesitant” or otherwise frustrating in what appears to be almost a lack of purpose and determination. Where this typically Russian attitude becomes a problem is when it signals to the leaders of the US deep state that Russia is not only hesitant, but possibly frightened. In a perverse way, the lack of “show of force” by Russia risks giving the Americans the impression that “the Russkies have blinked”. I am always quite amazed when I see western reactions to the soft, diplomatic language used by Russian diplomats. Where the Americans openly compare Putin to Hitler and demand the imposition of a (completely illegal) no-fly zone over Syria, the Russians respond with “my friend John” and “our partners” and “negotiations must proceed”. More often than not, when Americans hear the diplomatic language of the Russians, they mistake it for weakness and they feel further emboldened and they make even more threats. It is in partly for this reason that Russia and the United States are, yet again, on a collision course.
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