Thursday, April 6, 2017

Donald Trump and Russia's Putin relationship under 'serious strain'.......

In the lead-up to the US election, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin exchanged warm and fuzzy-sounding phrases such as "highly respected" and "very talented" and, "I think we'll get along very well".

But two-and-a-half months after Mr Trump's inauguration, it seems their burgeoning relationship has hit the skids.

Inevitably perhaps, it is the latest chapter in Syria's vicious civil war that has put it under serious strain.

Dozens of people were killed on Tuesday morning after Bashar al Assad's forces apparently launched an air assault on rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria.

Dozens more needed treatment after they were found convulsing and foaming at the mouth.

The Syrian regime denied dropping chemical weapons on the town. "The army has not used nor will use (chemical weapons) in any place or time, neither in past or in the future," read a military statement.

Their Russian backers then proposed an alternative explanation. Major-General Igor Konashenkov said Syrian planes had struck an insurgent storehouse containing toxic substances used in chemical weapons.

"This information is fully objective and verified," he said.

Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province

That theory has been widely dismissed in the west, both by the politicians and a host of independent experts.

Mr Trump says the attack "crossed a lot of lines for me", while secretary of state Rex Tillerson offered this: "We think it is time for the Russians to really think carefully about their continuing support for the Assad regime."

Will the Russians now drop their support for Bashar al Assad? The short (and long) answer to that is no. Mr Putin may have competing strategic calculations but his support for Syrian regime is a matter of personal pride and principle.

So, what happens next? Unilateral military action by the Americans would be extremely difficult without Russian consent. Their personnel are well dug in and equipped with sophisticated weaponry.

A far more likely scenario is the return to the US-Russia status quo - that awkward, difficult, scratchy relationship between the world's dominant military power and a centrally controlled usurper that predates the time of Mr Trump.

For those Russians who have a hand in running their country, this is clearly a frustrating reality. Many here thought America's new alternative President would usher a new age of cooperation.

On Thursday morning, Russian senator (and Putin-loyalist) Alexei Pushkov questioned the logic of Syria's dictatorial leader authorising a chemical weapons attack.

"The Trump administration had decided to stop trying to topple Assad. If there is anyone who doesn't benefit from this (attack) it is Assad," he said via his Twitter account.

He also lit into Nikki Haley, Mr Trump's representative to the UN, after she ripped into the Russian leadership at the Security Council overnight. "How many more children have to die before Russia cares?" she asked.

For Mr Pushkov, Ms Haley is nothing but a remodelled Samantha Power - the woman who held the job under the Obama administration.

"Haley has successfully replaced Power," he has said. "She uses the same rhetoric. She is from South Carolina, but she knows better than Syrians what kind of leader they need. The administration is new, the thoughts are old."

If all that sounds like something you have heard before, you would probably be right. But the global stalemate on the tragedy that is Syria does not do the people who are suffering any good.

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