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Putin now in stronger position on Syria

 Arun Srivastava |  2016-12-01 21:49:09.0  |  New Delhi

Putin now in stronger position on Syria

Before US President-elect Donald Trump goes back on his pre-election promises and reverses his rhetoric under pressure of think-tanks and the elite ruling caucus, Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to extract an obdurate guarantee from him to his action in Syria.       

To a great extent Putin has been successful in his mission after Trump and Putin held their first telephone call on November 15, in which the two leaders discussed Syria and agreed to improve and develop bilateral ties. The dynamics of the interaction could be made out of the fact that hours after the confabulation Russia launched a long-awaited offensive across Syria amid growing questions about how the new American president will deal with his Russian counterpart.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that show of fierceness by Putin in Syria has been the underlying reason for Trump to adopt a flexible attitude towards him. Though Russia and the USA has a 210-year-old diplomatic relation, never in the past the USA administration showed such a conciliatory approach towards Russia, especially after the fall of the Soviet Russia. This would help Putin to refurbish the image of the Russian Federation and also Russian nationalism. Russia is ready and looks forward to restoring bilateral relations with the United States. The astute handling of the Syrian crisis while has elevated the stature of Putin throughout the world; it also gave a nasty drubbing to the USA administration. 

For things to improve between Moscow and Washington, the US should first and foremost start acting like an equal partner and respect Russia’s interests rather than try to dictate terms, the chances of which are quite bright. With an unpredictable and inexperienced Trump heading the empire no one can predict, not even Russian intelligence, how Trump will react.  Though he has said that he wants to work with Russia on Syria, it cannot be said that he would come forward with his set of preconditions.     

It would be in fact naïve to believe that Trump would prove to be a "natural ally". Everything depends on the nature of the turn the Syrian events takes in future. Trump is a nationalist, and if comes to realise that his actions appear to compromise his conviction, he may become volatile. Russia launched a major military offensive in Syria last week.  It has started a large-scale operation to deliver massive fire on the positions of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in the provinces of Idlib and Homs. The besieged northern city of Aleppo had also been subject to intensifying bombardment for the first time in weeks, though the Kremlin denied it was hitting the area.

The timing raised alarms in Washington, with Senator John McCain, a leading voice on national security issues who clashed with Trump during the campaign, warning the incoming administration that a shift in US policy would amount to “complicity in Putin and Assad’s butchery of the Syrian people”.

In thirteen years of war, Iraq recently witnessed one of its most horrifying days of terrorism. ISIS has struck at Iraq’s civilian population with the explicit goal of dividing the country between Sunni and Shi’ite; it is incredible the bombs killed Sunnis also. But this terrorist operation also witnessed ISIS losing a substantial amount of the territory it once controlled. 

Historically, Iraq has the worst division between Arab Sunni and Arab Shi’ite, or Arab and Kurd. This division has been primarily at the base of the intensification of the ISIS manoeuvres in the region. ISIS has been resorting to the tactics of using terrorism to discredit Iraqi government, distract attention from their losses and attract volunteers and fund. 

Pushing the world on the brink of disaster has been the gift of the USA president Barrack Obama. His imprudence moves meant to propel the market, and capitalist interest has been at the root of the present global crisis. It is not yet clear how the new president Donald Trump would look at the development, but one thing is sure the USA administration would certainly not allow him to retract. In this backdrop, it is unlikely Trump would de-escalate the global tension and war threat.      

Though USA claims to back the Iraqi army in its final assault on the ISIS, the fact remains that even today the terror outfit is quite active in Iraq and can use terrorism to provoke clashes between Sunni and Shi’ite forces and Arab and Kurd. It can also repeat the kind of terrorist attacks in other portions of Iraq that it has just used in Baghdad.

It is clear that the fight against ISIS in Mosul and Iraq cannot be separated from the fight against ISIS in Raqqa and Syria. The long border between Syria and Iraq is almost impossible to secure against infiltrators. The greater the freedom ISIS has in operating out of Syria, the greater the challenge to liberating Mosul and the rest of Iraq. The elites of Iraq have further complicated the situation. They are enemies to their country as ISIS. Until they change or are forced out of power, no military success can rescue Iraq. 

Officials in the US government are once again considering military intervention in Syria and bombing Assad's military. Russia's involvement in Syria primarily owes to its commitment to fight international terrorism and protect the Assad regime. Undoubtedly the compulsion to retrieve the Russian prestige and achieve geopolitical parity with the US was also there. What is currently taking place in Syria is nothing less than the first international Shiite jihad in recent history. 

Russia’s use of an Iranian air base to bomb targets in Syria sends a message to Washington that the USA administration has not been serious in its fight against Islamic State and terrorism. The fact of the matter is the United States has no clear strategy on how to fight and defeat ISIS.  Putin’s intervention in Syria and his determination to protect Assad changed the scenario. Vladimir Putin now has celebrity status in Iraq and Syria.  His appeal has even extended to Lebanon. 

Undeniably the double standard adopted by Obama and his administration has been primarily responsible for the spread of ISIS. Putin accused this duality. He has called for an end to it as it has been hampering united global action against terrorism. Without naming, he accused USA and NATO of turning Iraq, Syria and Libya into a "zone of chaos and anarchy threatening the entire world". Putin specifically targeted Turkey of "allowing terrorists to earn money by selling oil stolen from Syria."

It is equally important that the European Union Council which had earlier blindly supported the US sanction against Russia has vertically split on continuing with it. This, in fact, has been the most significant achievement of Russia. Several countries led by the Italian Prime Minister Renzi are against imposing new restrictive measures on Russia. 

It would be naïve to believe that Russia intervened in Syrian crisis only for the sake of protecting Assad regime. A victory for Syria would facilitate lifting of the Western sanctions. It would also strengthen the eventual return to his New Russia policy. The turnaround of the de facto EU leader, Germany's Angela Merkel is the manifestation of the changing world. For her, the United States has ceased to be the essential power.

The victory of Donald Trump has given rise to some apprehensions in Russia. But his claim to lead the international fight against jihadi groups and forces has been encouraging for Putin. Also, Trump is for defeating ISIS rather than removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Interestingly, as a mark of close cooperation, Russia is leading the international fight against jihadi groups with its air campaign. Russia has already moved the Admiral Kuznetsov, its aircraft carrier, to the Mediterranean to participate in the strikes. 

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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