Russia's military actions inside Syria in no way signals a return to the Cold War and will ultimately backfire on Moscow, a White House spokesman insisted on Thursday.
Russia and the U.S. back opposing factions in some cases, as Russia is propping up Bashar Assad and the United States supporting "moderate" forces opposed to Assad. But White House spokesman Josh Earnest flatly denied it was a new Cold War with proxies fighting on behalf of each power.
"Not at all," Earnest said when asked.
And although the Obama administration does not welcome Moscow's "indiscriminate bombing," Washington was not shocked to see it begin, he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's exact intentions when he shipped new equipment to Russia's base inside Syria were unclear, even after President Obama sat down with him on Monday in New York. But Earnest said, "that is not to leave anyone with the impression that the United States was somehow surprised" that they took action.
"Russia is responding from a position of weakness," Earnest continued. Moscow's influence in the Middle East was declining and coming to the aid of Syrian dictator Assad is simply Russia "trying to shore up their investment" in a country that houses its last military base outside the former Soviet Union.
"They're trying to salvage their investment in this deteriorating situation," Earnest said.
And now that Russia is conducting airstrikes within Syria, Moscow risks being drawn "even more deeply" into a conflict that Putin has already conceded cannot be resolved militarily, Earnest said.
Russia "will be no more successful at imposing a military solution on Syria than the United States was at imposing a military solution on Iraq or that the Soviet Union was at imposing a military solution on Afghanistan," Earnest said, referencing the former Soviet Union's humiliating defeat in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Russia will pay a steep price if it continues bolstering Assad, Earnest added.
Earnest said Moscow's airstrikes will drive moderate forces, such as civilians arming themselves against Assad's barrel bombs, into the protection of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups operating in Syria, such as the al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate.
That exacerbates the region's extremism problem and "the extremism problem Russia has inside of Russia," Earnest said.