Amid growing tensions in relations between the U.S. and Russia, the Russian government is closing the American Center based in Moscow.
The move is seen as a yet another indication of deteriorating relations between Moscow and Washington, which are at its worst since the end of the Cold War.
The American Center in Moscow enlightens Russian people about the history of the U.S., its politics and literature. The center comprises of a public library and lecture hall, which allow visitors to read books and watch videos about the U.S.
Shutting down the center is the ‘final straw’ in a ‘systematic shutting down’ of a series of American Centers in Russia ‘over the past couple of years’, according to U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
Toner added that the shutting down of the center indicates ‘the state of Russia’s democracy’, as the Moscow-based center represents a ‘free information space’.
“The American Center has built deep and strong connections between the people and cultures of Russia and the United States,” U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft commented in a statement.
“These latest unilateral steps further call into question the Russian government’s commitment to maintaining people-to-people ties between the Russian and American people, which continued even during the Cold War and other complicated moments in our countries’ long history,” he added.
Fears over Russian threat in Syria
The decision to shut down the center comes at the time of plummeting relations between Russia and the U.S. In recent weeks, Moscow has boosted its presence in Syria, supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Washington wants his government removed from power.
The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that it has “long been supplying arms and military equipment to Syria in accordance with bilateral contracts.”
Russia has been openly supporting the Syrian government, with Russian President Vladimir Putin explaining that Russia is fighting ISIS “terrorist aggression” alongside the Assad regime.
However, although Washington is interested in eliminating the ISIS threat, the State Department has recently stated that the U.S. would not cooperate with the Syrian government even in the matters such as fighting ISIS. Instead, Washington is interested in a political transition in Syria, the State Department said.
Four Russian jets spotted in Syria
At least four Russian jets have been spotted at the airfield, including military ones, according to one source. It is yet unclear when the jets arrived in Syria, while models of the helicopters are not specified by Reuters.
On September 14, it was reported that Russia had sent its artillery and seven T-90 tanks to an airfield in the Syrian province of Latakia.
However, Syrian ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad then dismissed the reports as ‘not true’.
Speaking at the Pentagon on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, U.S. President Barack Obama said that Russia is the main culprit to blame for the Syrian crisis for its years-long military supplies to the Assad regime as well as its unwillingness to admit that as long as Assad is in power, there will be no peace in Syria.
What’s the sudden Russia’s interest in Syria?
These days Russia is showing that its intentions about Syria are as serious as never. If Russia used to express its support to the Assad regime only through vetoes in the UN, now Moscow has advanced from words to actions, since it stated its willingness to supply the Syrian government with military help required to fight terrorism.
However, the question is: why Russia has not been making any similar moves earlier, when the Assad regime experienced much more difficult times than now?
It seems that Russia feels the need to act rather than just criticize. Criticizing did nothing for Russia’s foreign policy during the Libyan crisis, which is why the Kremlin feels it has to change the tactic this time.
In the Syrian crisis, the consequences of Western intervention into matters of Syria would be much more serious for Russia, and therefore, much more undesired by the Kremlin.
Losing Syria would mean that Russia is stripped off its influence in the Middle East.
Is Russia preparing for a war in Syria?
Vladimir Putin noted that Russia will ‘in any case’ continue supporting the Assad regime and provide it with aid, including the military one.
The Western media, meanwhile, interprets such statements of the Russian leadership as Russia military preparation to unleash a war in the country.
Meanwhile, the U.S. takes advantage of the current situation in its own way, criticizing the president of the United States and thus gaining extra points for their 2016 presidential election campaigns.
A U.S. politician famous for his strong statements against both Russia and Barack Obama, Senator John McCain has once again criticized the Obama administration for its ineffective foreign policy.
“Russia’s doubling down on the murderous Assad regime is yet another example of how this administration’s feckless foreign policy has emboldened our adversaries and diminished our standing in the world,” McCain said Monday in a statement.
Russia’s military buildup to fight ISIS or U.S.?
Judging by statements of Western states, the West now considers ISIS the main threat in Syria. Therefore, the sudden Russia’s military buildup in Syria can be interpreted in a few different ways. Is Russia’s goal, which as reported is now modernizing a military airbase in Latakia, to have a counterweight against the Incirlik air base?
Or is Russia looking for the opportunity to pave the way for negotiations with the U.S. to begin cooperating against the common enemy – ISIS?
The latter scenario is more likely, as Russia’s offer to use military hardware and militarily equipped locations against ISIS would be an attractive idea for Western states, as they are not eager to talk directly to the Syrian government; they would talk to the Assad regime through Russia.
In such a way, Russia would step up its military presence in Syria as well as bring down the amount of pressure put on the Syrian government.