Russia’s intervention in Syria may signal not only its full reemergence as a world power, but a corresponding decline of the US as sole hegemon
Russia’s intervention in Syria has developed into something like a geo-political crime novel. The Russians have agreed alliances with China and Iran. The aim of these three great powers is to do away with the hegemony of the USA in the Middle East. This could lead to a shift in the global balance of power. Europe’s role in all this might be to accept and integrate the refugees from the region.
The US government is threatened with a much greater setback in the Middle East than the loss of face involved in the greatest military power in the world being unable to defeat IS.
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has quietly, but with great speed and consequence, formed a new alliance in the Middle East designed to promote the parties’ interests in the region at the expense of the those of the Americans.
Pravda reports that Peking has agreed to support the Russian intervention in Syria. Igor Morozow, member of the Russian parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, told the newspaper that China had already sent one warship to the Mediterranean and was ready to deploy its military off the coast of Syria in support of Russia.
Iran is also a member of the alliance and is ready to fight against IS through Hisbollah. Leonid Krukatow told the newspaper that the principal conflict in international politics is that between China and the USA. Russia is ready to co-operate with both. This development will fundamentaly alter a world order that has been fixed for years.
With the founding of an information centre, Putin has brought Iran, Syria and Iraq together on its side in the fight against IS. The New York Times reported that the states have established a common center for infromation exchange in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. The German Press Agency confirmed the establishment of a co-operative centre for the respective secret services.
According to Russian agencies the centre could also be used to co-ordinate joint military operations against IS. Representatives of the General Staffs of Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran are to analyse the situation. According to reports the leadership is at present held by Iraq, and will be changed every three months.
The government in Baghdad is at present armed and supplied by the USA. The NYT reported that Iraq has nevertheless silently supported the Russians in their operations in Syria – despite the thousands of [US] military advisors active in Baghdad.
Putin is consciously fishing in waters that have up to now been a US domain. Already on Saturday he was discussing the situation in the Syrian war with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the Kremlin has announced. This was the second telephone conversation within two weeks with a King whose kingdom has close military ties to the USA and is one of the chief financiers of the various armed groups [in Syria].
Saudi Arabia persues its own war in Yemen, one which has seen clear violations of human rights. The civil population is defenceless against Saudi air strikes. The territorial integrity of Yemen has long been a thing of the past. Protests about this by the EU, which has accused Russia of doing precisely this in Ukraine, remain unknown.
This development has clearly taken the USA completely by surprise. The US has not been following a clear line in foreign policy in the past weeks. While US President Barack Obama wants to co-operate with Putin, indeed has called on him to engage in Syria, the neo-cons fight against bringing in Russia.
Russia’s plans for the Middle East involve much more than a victory over IS. They want to secure influence over the region’s raw materials. Russia has been involved in Syria for a long time, because Syria is strategically important for Gazprom. Putin has obviously been waiting for a time when the “lame duck” Obama would have limited freedom of manoeuvre. In the USA the Presidential election campaign involves all important political players.
Putin wants to use this situation, not least because, due to the aggressive stance of the USA over Ukraine, he can no longer expect the relations between the two great powers to be normalized within the foreseeable future. The fact that Obama once attempted to make Russia a laughing-stock by dismissing it as “a regional power” plays no great role here. Putin behaves rationally in face of the Western reading, as one can tell from his recent interview with CBS.
This development could be very unpleasant for Europe. The large-scale attacks on IS will also hit the civilian population. There will be further expulusions and ethnic cleansing. The Russians will do nothing about this. They know that above all Germany, with its undertaking to accept all refugees from the crisis region, has made the work of the parties to the war easier.
Also, the West has discredited itself by its stance over Ukraine. After all, ethnic cleansing is also going on there. The announcement by the Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk, who owes his position to the US, that Russians would do best to leave Ukraine, and the consequent driving-out of hundreds of thousands on ethnic Russians from eastern Ukraine, have given Putin a forceful argument. He can accuse the West of itself taking part in ethnic cleansing – and conclude that he has a free hand in the Middle East. He regards the EU as a refuge for those driven out.
The open invitation from the Chancellor and the resignation evident in German refugee policy in general, is a dream come true for Putin. He is an iron-hard politician, who is convinced that in a world full of threats one can only rule with an iron hand. And with this policy he finds ever more supporters.
Today democratic India has done the same as Russia and decided to ban those foreign NGOs and Think-Tanks who they suspect to be engaged in political agitation.
Putin also benefits from the West’s uncoordinated actions against IS. France has been threatening since the weekend to also mount air strikes against IS. The British are already militarily engaged, but given no signs of being ready to seek a diplomatic solution.
For Israel the situation for just as threatening. Iran, despite signing the Atom-Deal, has missed no opportunity to assert that Israel must disappear from the earth. The arming of Hisbollah, already aclaimed by Nasrallah, the head of the organisation, is an existential threat to Israel.
Whether the Israelis and Russia have come to an agreement on this is unclear. Prime Minister Netanjahu travelled alone to Moscow to brief Putin on the situation. The Israeli government feels betrayed by the USA, since Netanyahu opposed the Iran deal to the last. Whether Mossad then already knew about the new alliance is unknown.
Just as unknown is how the USA will react. It is not to be excluded, that they will accept Putin’s offer, in order not to be overtaken by events. A key role will most likely be played by the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He intends to defeat the PKK and with that also the non-violent Kurdish oppositon.
For months Turkey has been bombarding Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq, without the slightest consideration for civilian casualties. It may be presumed that Erdogan has purchased the silence of the West by tolerating the presence in Turkey of two million refugees.
But even that humanitarian gesture will not be an enduring one: turkey has already warned Bulgaria that the seven million refugees in Turkey are lonly waiting to find a way to Europe. Bulgaria has brought this to the attention of the EU. There has been apparently no reaction. The EU-Commisioner Johannes Hahn has given Turkey reason to believe that Visa-free travel will soon be possible. It is known that large numbers of forged travel documents are circulating in Turkey.
The new alliance, also has after-effects in close economic co-operation, especially between China and Russia. The “Silk Road Project” is the largest infrastructure project today. Wit the new Asian investment bank AIIB the Chinese and Russians have created a counterpart to the IWF, with the goal of ending the hegemony of the dollar.
In the Middle East this strategy could be widened by an attack on the Petro-Dollar. Russia would then move from being a regional power to a serious global player.
US President Obama is due to meet with Chinese leaders in the coming weeks. The prelude to this has been threats from the US government against China. The Chinese will listen with patience to the American representations. They know that they are talking to a world power whose global monopoly may soon be a thing of the past.
This article originally appeared in German Economic News. Translated by Paul Dunne for Russia Insider