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Middle East geopolitics undergoes change

Middle East geopolitics undergoes change
Russian President, Vladimir Putin who till a year back was the most hated leader and was in fact treated like an outcast amongst the global fraternity is today the most sought after leader for restoring peace in the strife-torn middle and west Asia. It is worth recalling that Putin had left last year’s G20 meeting in Brisbane early in a huff, tired of being chided by world leaders over Ukraine. Just a year after the global fraternity and especially the G20 has found Putin as the partner for peace and recognised that the road to peace in Syria runs through Moscow.

This emergence of Putin as the partner of peace is quite important for the reason that he had to fight the divisive mechanisms of the forces who claim to be working for global peace. It is a known fact that jihadist forces that constitute ISIS were financed and armed by the CIA. Washington’s Sunni Gulf allies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) and Turkey served as proxy forces in the overthrowing and murder of the secular Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, as well as in the war for regime change against the secular regime in Syria. Iran, yesterday’s evil empire, is today a potential asset of US.  The US is backing a Shiite sectarian regime in Iraq that is aligned with Iran, even as it collaborates with Sunni Saudi Arabia in waging war in Yemen and striving to topple the Shiite Assad regime in Syria.

It is significant that even in this hostile backdrop Putin continues to hold his ground firmly. It is clear to Putin the US hegemony will come to an end, once he succeeds in his struggle in Syria. Obviously, this is the reason that Putin intends to protect and shield Assad and treats it as his personal issue, linked to his idea that the west is bent on regime change, from the Middle East to Moscow.

Obama administration has often reiterated its commitment to work together in some way with Russia in Syria if it were to focus its efforts against ISIS. However, the USA has not been true to his promise. While the USA was pledging help its allies were working against Russia and even suspecting its intentions. The shooting down of Russian fighter jet by Turkey is one such candid example. The Obama administration even did not respond to the French President’s initiative for floating a grand coalition” to confront ISIS in Syria. In contrast, Putin has already established greater military coordination with the French since the Paris attacks. In the naval field, they are working with a group of Russian naval vessels in the Mediterranean.

Ironically the relations between the USA and Russia are at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War in 1991, largely due to the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s air campaign in Syria. Though Obama and Putin emphasised in their speeches for cooperation in eradicating terrorism and ending conflict no apparent breakthroughs could be made so far. In the first meeting that they had held in a bid to find common ground in Syria, fighting the Islamic State and resolving the Moscow-backed separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine nothing tangible could be achieved. The primary reason was that Obama was reluctant to accept Russian stand on Assad. It is beyond comprehension why USA has been having a rigid stand on Assad. In the greater interest of the global fraternity and peace, the US administration should have looked at the scenario afresh.

Giving his seventh and last State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in Washington on January 12, President Obama defended his military strategy in Iraq and Syria. “I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air. Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.” He added: “As we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence.”

Actually, what Obama intended to tell his countrymen was not clear. But it was an admission of his failure in Syria. Putin appeared to be correct in his assessment when he said after his meeting with Obama that he remained divided on Assad’s fate. A senior Obama administration official, briefing reporters, later told it was “business-like but there was no resolution to the dispute over Assad.” True enough the meeting Obama and Putin had unraveled the acute crisis of US policy in Syria and the broader Middle East. The very fact that the White House offered to meet with the Russian leader in pursuit of a political settlement in Syria, breaking its two-year freeze on such contacts, testified to the debacle Washington has suffered in its bloody, four-year war for regime change in that devastated country.

It is no secret that shift in US policy reflects a general weakening of the US position in the region. A series of recent events have underscored the failure of the US-led war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, now more than a year old, to significantly weaken the organisation in either country. The US-instigated sectarian civil war in Syria, engineered as part of a broader plan to deprive Iran of its sole Arab ally in preparation for a possible war for regime change against Tehran, has to date resulted in some 300,000 deaths and turned 11 million Syrians, nearly half of the country’s pre-2011 population, into refugees. The flood of refugees from US-led military operations in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and other countries has created a massive crisis in Europe, exacerbating internal tensions and exposing the brutal face of European capitalism. The refugee crisis is a major factor in the German government’s open dissent from US policy in Syria.

Russia’s Middle East influence has been in terminal decline since the early 1970s, when Egypt switched its allegiance from the Soviet camp to the US. The civil war in Syria has again placed Russia at the center of the region’s geopolitical map. Moscow’s diplomatic and military backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is one of the principal reasons for the survival of the Syrian regime in the face of a widespread domestic rebellion. It is also a major irritant for the US who often accuses Russia of playing the “spoiler role” in the Middle East. The fall of Bashar al-Assad would be an enormous blow to Russia’s prestige.

Since the Russian intervention in Syria, the U.S. reaction has been cautious and ambiguous. The Obama administration initially voiced concern about the intervention, but then changed course and expressed half-satisfaction and some hope of seeing Russia join the anti-Islamic State effort. What is significant that in spite of all its efforts the USA has not succeeded in pinning down Russia in the matter of Syria. Interestingly Obama pointed to Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and the 2003-2011 US occupation of Iraq as examples where the use of force fueled instability. In reply, Putin reiterated his contention that Russia was compelled to intervene in Ukraine as a result of a threat posed by the US-led expansion of NATO into the former Soviet Union. He also slammed the support that Sunni Arab nations have provided to Sunni rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, which is dominated by a minority Shiite sect. Putin blamed the US for the creation of the Islamic State. He also lambasted Washington and its European allies for backing the overthrow of Libya’s late dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, creating the conditions that led to the emergence there of the Islamic State.

In fact, in the wake of the Syria crisis, the Russian stocks rallied the most worldwide. Russia is no longer seen as a villain like a year ago. The political risk that was priced into Russian assets is declining. Foreigners, who were mostly underweight Russia, are now buying Russian blue chips. Russia’s move to cement its alliance with Iran in Syria during the meeting of 200 world leaders underscored a troubling development for the Obama administration and its European allies.        IPA

(The views expressed are strictly personal)
Arun Srivastava

Arun Srivastava

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