Tossing Syria, Ukraine Issues into US Elections Has Unforeseen Fallout

US-Russian tensions over Crimea and the unending Syrian conflict boiled over when these issues were tossed into the cauldron of the US presidential campaigns between Aug. 13 and Aug. 15.
US intelligence sources placed responsibility for the Crimea clashes squarely at the door of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, and Mikhail Fradkov, the head of the Russian SVR Foreign Intelligence Service, accusing them of maneuvers for expanding the global power game board from Syria north to Turkey, west to Central Europe and east to Iran.
Russian intelligence sources made light of these allegations, turning them back to accuse President Barack Obama and CIA Director John Brennan of stoking the Ukraine front and stirring up Russian-Ukrainian military clashes to keep the Crimean pot bubbling until after the US Presidential elections in November.
Their motive was said to be providing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton with a vote-catching, hawkish anti-Putin posture for her contest against her Republican rival Donald Trump.
Moscow sources linked this anti-Russian line on Clinton’s behalf directly to a previous charge, which accused Russian intelligence of leaking 22,000 embarrassing DNC emails to WikiLeaks on the eve of the Democratic Party’s convention in the third week of July.
Those emails showed up the purportedly neutral party leadership as covertly tilting the odds for the nomination against Bernie Sanders and in favor of Clinton. They also revealed how Democrats raised large donations to the Clinton campaign by promising donors exalted positions in the next administration, if she wins the election.
The Russian sources dismissed the charge of invading Democratic computers as absurd. They maintained that the SVR and the GRU Military Intelligence agencies were too busy to concern themselves with hacking the computers of Clinton and the Democratic Party.
That Donald Trump fell into the trap which Obama and Clinton’s advisers laid at his feet by challenging Putin to release more emails was neither here nor there, the Russians said and flatly denied interfering in America’s presidential elections. Indeed, Putin’s close advisers suspect an Obama setup. They believe that Ukrainian agents who earlier this month infiltrated Crimea for “terrorist attacks” were inspired by US intelligence officers in regular contact with Ukraine’s Intelligence Service and Defense Ministry Intelligence Department.
This accusation has not been articulated out loud, but was strongly insinuated in more than one article appearing in Russian newspapers this week.
Moscow found further evidence that the Ukraine conflict was being kept artificially alive to demonize Trump and burnish Clinton’s militant image in this week’s The New York Times report, which revealed that the Republican candidate’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had served as a political adviser to Putin’s ally, former Ukraine President Viktor F. Yanukovych. The report described him as receiving “off-the-book” fees from the deposed leader’s party put up by Russia.
Although US government officials denied that Manafort had been guilty of any wrongdoing, the dirt stuck.
Social networks were also pressed into service this week for some tasty gossip.
An item “revealed” that Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka was enjoying a summer holiday in Croatia with Wendi Deng, who was once married to media mogul Rupert Murdoch – innocent enough, if not for the rider that claimed Deng is currently Vladimir Putin’s mistress. (!)
Moscow hit back over these aspersions with its formidable military and diplomatic tools.
1. A large-scale military exercise in the Black Sea.
2. The deployment of highly advanced S-400 anti-air missiles to the Crimean Peninsula.
3. A freeze on talks with Washington on military and intelligence cooperation in Syria.
Yet, on a separate level, Moscow on Aug. 15 signified its willingness to lift the Ukraine and Syria issues out of the US electoral context, defuse the high tensions with Washington and return to the negotiating table with the US.
That day, the Russian business daily Vedomosti quoted a source close to the Defense Ministry as citing Russian military commanders who stated that Moscow had no plans to strike Ukrainian territory in response “to the terrorist attacks” allegedly plotted by Kiev in Crimea, after thwarting them.
On the same day, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu disclosed that Russia and the US were close to starting “joint military action against militants in Syria's Aleppo” – which Washington sources were quick to deny. They confirmed that direct US-Russia direct talks were ongoing in Geneva, adding there is no "deadline" for any agreement on cooperation, but the hope is to “get something nailed down” before Presidents Obama and Putin meet in early September.
The Obama administration is evidently intent on keeping Washington-Russian tensions high for at least another month. Putin, on the other hand, was not prepared to play along. And so, on Aug. 16, he caught Washington off guard by the announcement that the Russian air force had been given a base in Iran for air strikes against terrorist targets in Syria.
And indeed, that day, Tupolev-22M3 long-range bombers and Sukhoi-34 strike fighters took off from the West Iranian Nojeh air base near Hamedan for its first operation.
This development is a major game-changer in the big power balance of strength, which far transcends transient US election trickery. It will land like a hot potato in the lap of Obama’s successor when he/she enters the White House in January.

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