The Russians seem to be hopping mad that the Trump administration has punished Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons against the people of the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.
But why are they so angry, why have they burnt some of their bridges, especially with Washington?
It is no secret that the Kremlin is not at all happy with the Assad regime using rough and tough tactics to punish the population of the areas held by opposition forces. At times Russian officials have even said the Assad regime has to face the consequences of such tactics.
Yet when the Americans "as a one-time limited reprisal" bombed the Syrian air base from where Assad launched a deadly chemical attack on the civilian population of Idlib that killed nearly 100 people including women and children the Russians were furious.
They spoke about war. They cancelled their cooperation with the coalition forces that would avoid any mishaps with Russian fighter planes in Syrian airspace. They have activated their air defense systems to hit coalition war planes. Yet, the Americans had informed them about their action before the attack and gave them time to move their military assets from the Syrian air base. That is apparently while Russia did not fire its S-400 ground to air missiles to shoot down the Tomahawks used in the attack. So why all the anger?
There are three explanations.
One is that the Russians knew all about Assad's chemical stockpiles, which were either hidden away in 2013 when they were supposed to hand them over to international inspectors under Russian and American supervision or the Syrians later manufactured new chemical weapons, which the Russians were aware of. This would make Russia an accessory to the war crimes committed by Assad and leave them caught red-handed.
The other explanation is that Russia has been fooled by Assad, though it has to continue its support for the Assad regime as it is now too invested in Syria and cannot exit at this stage due to its strategical interests.
The third is the argument that Russia is faking its anger to create a rift with Washington and thus dispel the campaign that Trump has been sold out to Putin.
Whatever the cause, the Kremlin has to see that Assad did use chemical weapons, that he still has such weapons, which are a real threat to regional stability and a source of embarrassment for President Vladimir Putin. He has to see that this is an unsustainable situation and that Syria should be reprimanded.
The Russians can lead the international effort to tame Assad and thus show to the world that the Kremlin can and will act as a major power when its good offices are needed.
The world needs the Kremlin to use its good offices today. The Kremlin has shut its doors to Washington. So President Putin can do this by enlisting the help of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and employ Turkey as a mediator.
The Kremlin can agree to turn the northern Syrian land controlled by Turkey and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) into a safe zone and guarantee that this area will not be attacked by Syrian jet fighters… That would be an excellent start.