Moscow: Russian state television is back on a war footing as a prime-time news program warns that the US wants to provoke a conflict, and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warns of danger.
This time, the ramped-up rhetoric follows the collapse of ceasefire efforts in Syria with both the US and Russia accusing each other of sinking diplomacy.
Moscow has since increased its military presence in the Mediterranean and Baltic regions and suspended a nuclear non-proliferation treaty with the US.
“Offensive behaviour toward Russia has a nuclear dimension,” Russian state TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said in his Vesti Nedelyi program on Sunday. “Moscow would react with nerves of iron to a Plan B,” he said, referring to any possible US military strike in Syria.
Russia on October 8 vetoed a French-proposed United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an end to air attacks on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo where the Assad and Russian regimes say they are fighting terrorists.
In a signal of the renewed rupture, French President Francois Hollande said in an interview released on Monday that he hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll meet with Putin when the Russian leader goes to Paris on October 19.
“The world has got to a dangerous phase,” former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said in an interview with state news service RIA Novosti on Monday.
Russia deployed the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Syria and reinforced its presence by sending three missile ships to the Mediterranean. It confirmed Western media reports it has stationed Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between NATO members Poland and Lithuania. Poland’s defence minister said the action caused the “highest concern”.
Both the Iskander and the Kaliber missiles carried by these ships can be fitted with nuclear warheads, Kiselyov said on.
The sudden escalation puts the relationship back into the deep freeze it was in at the peak of the crisis over Ukraine in 2014, which also sparked a wave of hostility in state media.
The rise in tensions could lead to new sanctions against the Kremlin, with some members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party seeking to penalise Moscow over Syria.
The Obama administration suggested that Russian actions in Syria could amount to war crimes and blamed Russia for cyber attacks aimed at disrupting the US election.
The result will be the “ossification of US-Russian relations at an abysmally low level,” said Chris Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a New York-based risk consultancy. “Deep mistrust of Putin will now be structural and unanimous among US policy makers.”
Alexei Pushkov, a senator who headed the lower house of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee until recently, in a Twitter post raised the spectre of a confrontation like the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which brought the US and Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war over the stationing of Soviet missiles on the Caribbean island.
Russia won’t back down, said Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Parliament. The risk of military clashes between the US-led coalition and Russian military in Syria “is rising every day,” he said.
For Putin, the only strategy is to raise the bets, said Eurasia’s Kupchan. “He’s masterfully playing a weak hand, to the detriment of US security and economic interests.”