There are many signs which make us think of a new strategic relationship between Russia and Israel in the Middle East. In general terms, we can now assume that the Jewish State is already considering and assessing the US disengagement from the Middle East system – hence Israel is trying to define a policy to “replace” them, thus establishing connections with the Russian Federation.
Obviously the bad personal relations between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu carried a remarkable weight in this respect, but we are witnessing a real redefinition of all the regional geopolitical equilibria.
Also the US and EU slapdash attitude on the JCPOA, namely the Treaty on the Iranian civilian-military nuclear power, rightly criticized by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the whole Israeli establishment, had a significant influence in this regard.
Both Russia, which has already “won” its war in Syria and Israel, which has drawn all the geopolitical consequences of the “Arab springs” and the ambiguous initial US support for the anti-Assad Syrians “rebels”, are redesigning – almost alone – the new Greater Middle East map.
Whatever happens in Syria from now on, the US destiny is a progressive marginalization both in the Sunni and Shiite regions, as well as a subjection of its operations to a series of alliances (with Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan) in which the United States will no longer have the clout they had until a few years ago.
As already said, the signs of a “new start” for the Russian-Israeli relations are manifold.
Suffice to think of Russia’s returning of an M48 Patton Israeli tank, captured by the Syrians in the 1982 Lebanon War near Sultan Yaakov during an ambush in which the three tank drivers were killed.
The tank was sent by Hafez el Assad to Moscow for it to be studied by the Soviet technical and intelligence services and was later placed in the Tank Museum of Kubinka.
However there is no official news about the fate of the three IDF soldiers.
Obviously President Vladimir Putin preliminary informed Bashar al-Assad of its decision and nothing prevents the current Syrian Alawite leadership from deciding, in the future, to provide to the Israeli government information about the sad fate of the three tank drivers.
Furthermore, during all Russian operations in Syria, the Russian and Israeli soldiers met regularly to exchange information and avoid duplication of efforts.
The Russians tolerated some trespassing – indeed regularly reported – of Israeli aircraft over the Golan Heights and into central Syria, while the Jewish State tolerated (having been preliminary informed) some Russian aircraft overflying its territory.
Hence it is clear that the sideline negotiations between Russia and Israel are made up of three strands, which are obviously closely interwoven.
Israel wants the Russian Federation to act as a credible mediator and power broker between Israel and the Palestinian region, because Russia is reliable for both parties.
In addition, the Jewish State does not want any transfer of military technology, information and logistics from Russia to its allies in Syria: the Hezbollah, the Iranian brigades of the Pasdaran Al Quds Force and Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Nor can we rule out that – in the coming months or years – the axis between Russia and Israel may result in redesigning regional powers in the Middle East region.
Currently those powers have neither father nor mother, and the replacement of great powers by Iran and Saudi Arabia will not last long.
They are too small and unable to create far-reaching strategic correlations.
Hence time has come for the Middle East to be anchored to a global power, which will be the Russian-Chinese axis, with Israel acting as a regional counterweight.
It is worth recalling that China has already made military flights over the Syrian territory.
The Chinese “non-interventionist” line does not mean lack of real knowledge of facts or lack of pressure and interference power.
The Russian-Israeli negotiations also imply a Russian guarantee for Israel regarding possible Iranian military operations, the marginalization of the Lebanese Shiites’ “Party of God”, a new Assad’s government not aiming at destroying the ”Zionist entity”, or the division of current Syria into three parts, with the consequent reduction of all its internal factions.
This is the US line, and partially also the line of some Israeli decision-makers.
Russia, however, thinks that the whole Southern Syria shall go back under Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while Israel, along with the United States, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, believes that a mini-State in Southern Syria is fundamental for Assad and his Iranian allies to invade the Golan Heights.
However, President Putin’s offer to the Jewish State seems to be the following: if Israel accepted the “Greater Syria”, the Russian forces would remain in the Western region of the country to protect Israel against any action by Iran or Assad’s government.
This is the reason why Russia wants to reopen the political relations between Assad’s regime and Israel, so as to make the Baathist government depart from Iran’s and the Lebanese Shiites’ geopolitical line.
This is not even in its interest.
Hence this is the strategic reason for the token gesture of the restitution of the Israeli tank.
Nevertheless, there is more in the new Russian project in the Middle East and in the Israeli response to the rise of the new Russian power in the Middle East.
During Netanyahu’s visit to Russia on April 21, 2016, for example, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Russian President pointed out Russia’s interest in developing and exploiting the new offshore natural gas field known as Leviathan, which will be the real “game changer” in the Middle East in the near future.
If GazProm cooperates in the exploitation and marketing of the offshore gas field area between Haifa and the Gaza Strip, it will be vital for the Russian Federation to ensure – along with Israel – security of communications, particularly in relation to the possible Hezbollah actions from the Lebanon or the Iranian pressures on the Golan.
This new energy system will finally change the relations between Israel and Turkey, which will be the hub of the natural gas extracted from the Leviathan field, and will make the Russian oil and gas companies enter the Middle East market, thus excluding the US companies operating in Turkey and in most Sunni world.
It is worth recalling that both Iran and Qatar now operate mainly on the natural gas market, and the large Israeli Leviathan gas field could compete with many of the fiercest Muslim, Shiite or Sunni opponents of the Jewish State.
Therefore the three visits paid to Russia by Prime Minister Netanyahu over a year are essential both for Israel’s foreign policy and for its economic future.
Moreover, Israel knows that the Obama administration believes that some territories conquered by the Jewish State were annexed illegally and also this fact could bring Russia and Israel closer in the future.
Russia must maintain its presence in Ukraine and support – at international level – Crimea’s annexation.
If Israel supports Russia’s demands, it is very likely for it to support Israel’s good right to keep the Palestinian territories.
Moreover, in strictly military terms, the Jewish State fears that the presence of Russia’s advanced weaponry – such as the Iskander missile or the batteries of S-4007 carriers, sold by Russia also to Iran – would make the Syrian territory very dangerous for Israel’s security.
Hence very specific operational guarantees and a clear idea of Russian defenses eastwards and along the route of the future Leviathan pipeline will be needed to reassure Israel of the Russian Federation’s good intentions.
It is said, however, that the deployment of the Triumph S-4007 and the other Russian advanced weapons is basically a Russian cosmetic operation for “image” purposes, and some British analysts do not even believe that these news and reports are really grounded.
Nevertheless, at least since 2007 Russia has already had a listening post in place in the Golan Heights, which controls Israel’s telephone traffic (via the Internet and electronically) and, above all, its decision-making centers.
On the other hand, the Jewish State has some listening posts in the Golan Heights and in other safe areas of the Middle East region.
In other words, both President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu are playing open-face by laying all their cards on the table, being well aware of the projects and the “tacit knowledge” they have about each other.
So, considering all these conditions, in the best possible scenario Israel could:
a) replace – in the long run – the United States with the Russian Federation as a global ally and as a presence of reference in the Middle East region.
In fact, the American ruling class is closely linked to the Saudi lobby, also from a financial and political subsidizing viewpoint.
The two wars of the US-led Coalition in Iraq have disrupted Saudi Arabia’s main enemy, namely Iran. They have placed a Western advanced military system between Saudi Arabia and its Iranian global enemy and they have finally created a center of gravity north of Saudi Arabia, which has stabilized the whole region in favor of the Saudi Sunnis.
Furthermore, b) Israel can rely on a more stable and credible mediator, namely the Russian power broker, both vis-à-vis the Palestinians and, in the long run, even in relation to the Shiite and Alawite world.
The United States have played all their cards in the Greater Middle East on the democratization and secularization of populations and regimes that have not the same culture, the same history and the same link between religion and politics as those traditionally existing in the West.
It is also worth noting that their psyops and propaganda operations were, and still are, limited and often incomprehensible for the huge Islamic masses of the Greater Middle East.
The modernization that has been successful in the current Islam, if any, is the jihad one, not the adaptation to the pro-Western and secularized cultural universe.
Not all Arabs would decide to be shahid, namely “martyrs” for Al Qaeda, but all the Arab masses celebrated – in the streets – the destruction of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon attack.
This is the new imagery and narrative with which we have to come to terms.
It is the “imaginal” – a philosophical concept developed by the orientalist Nenry Corbin, who believed that the term “imaginary” had acquired a very restricted meaning in Western philosophy – stemming from the fact that the great powers’ balance in the Middle East has been replaced by the small regional powers, which have to radicalize their ideology to hide their strategic, military and geopolitical inadequacy or failure.
Hence, since the two Iraqi wars, the United States have viewed the Eastern region under Western eyes – just to quote the title of a great novel by Joseph Conrad, initially set – incidentally – in Saint Petersburg.
A comprehensive strategy of democratization and secularization, which today has clearly failed, and to which the US ruling class cannot but respond with Thomas Jefferson’s formula: no entanglements.
But can there be a global power, with a global currency, without entanglements?
It is a paradox of the US foreign policy which cannot be solved in the short term.
Finally 3) Israel, jointly with the Russian Federation, will be able to manage its new policy of global projection outside the Middle East.
In the future, for Israel, there will be a place in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, in Central Asia, in India, even in Latin America and in some African areas.
All areas which are now in the Russian and Chinese strategic reach, while the EU is retreating even from the Mediterranean (and increases its already substantial rate of anti-Semitism) and dreams, together with the United States, of an irrational revival of the Cold War, with the current NATO operations in Poland.
It is worth noting, however, that both Crimea and Ukraine are in Russian hands, at least de facto, and that a military operation against the NATO positions along the border with the Russian Federation can be led from those areas – an operation which would be hard for NATO to oppose.
Is War Inevitable?
Over the past days and weeks, media outlets have been proliferating all kinds of apocalyptic predictions and scenarios on the immediate prospects of the Ukrainian crisis. Journalists, experts, and politicians claim—with all seriousness—that a Russian-Ukrainian war can hardly be thwarted, not to mention article that seek to explore a purported coup in Kiev, the crushing response of the West, or even the looming nuclear conflict of global dimensions.
We shall try to find an answer to a number of interwoven questions, which might arise in the minds of those who face this wave of dire prophecies and predictions. Why has this information attack been unleashed? Who is behind this and who is deriving profit from it? What is really going on and what could happen to the Ukrainian issue in the near future?
Starting off with Moscow’s plans and intentions. Anyone who is slightly familiar with the structure of power in Russia knows well that it is few people who are especially close to the power circles that are aware of the true plans and the motives of the Russian authorities. As a rule, these people tend to avoid showing up in the media. Strong statements are usually made by those tasked by their superiors to attract a lot of exposure or by those who act at their own discretion to be noticed and appreciated by their top management. Obviously, none of these talking heads are privy to any of the Kremlin’s plans, which means they are simply working out their tasks at a higher or lower professional level. Regrettably, being baseless and of no practical value, the campaign—launched by such ‘concerned’ people about the allegedly impending war in Ukraine—invariably affects the public sentiment in our country, causing either panic or warmongering. This bellicose campaign, coupled with its dire consequences, has the potential to seriously demoralize and traumatize Russian society. Time will tell what repercussions this may bring about; still, nothing good can obviously be expected from this wave of hysteria.
It can be assumed that some in Russia need another anti-Ukrainian campaign to deflect attention from the country’s severe socio-economic and political problems, to raise the population’s patriotic spirit, or to unite the country. If one thinks so, one is likely to be seriously disappointed over time. The very idea of war against Ukraine or in Ukraine is insufficient for a new national idea; it is not even close to a platform on which Russian society could be consolidated.
Now let’s take a look at this problem from Ukraine’s perspective. We have to admit that there are many in the country who are interested in stirring up information hysteria around the relations with Russia, and for various reasons. They assume that playing the role of an innocent victim of the bloodthirsty Russia can only bring benefits to Ukraine.
First, they believe that this way it would be easier to implement a plan in order to shape a new national identity. Second, the West might be willing to turn a blind eye to Ukraine’s domestic scandals, corruption cases and other issues. Third, one can count on increased economic and military aid by playing the victim. Fourth, numerous clumsy actions of Russian propaganda only serve to strengthen anti-Russian sentiments across Ukraine. Therefore, it is logical to assume that Kiev will go on with doing everything it can to heat up tensions in the media environment.
The campaign around Russia’s alleged imminent aggression in Ukraine is also good for Washington and its Euro-Atlantic allies. It provides a distraction from their own domestic problems, allowing for cohesion within the archaic NATO and diverting attention from the ignominious flight of the Western troops from Afghanistan. By focusing on what is going on around Ukraine, the White House is trying to counter the Europe-wide perceptions that the Atlantic string of U.S. foreign policy is finally receding into the background of U.S. priorities, giving way to the Indo-Pacific, which is more important to Washington.
Long story short, everyone is minding their own business, spinning a propaganda war around Ukraine.
Are there any forces that might actually be interested in a full-blown rather than a propaganda war in Ukraine? The situation looks different here. If one puts aside the opinions of fierce fanatics and professional instigators, it turns out that no one needs an actual war with the use of modern weapons, countless casualties and immense destruction. Everyone would lose from such a war, be it Russia, the West, or Ukraine. This would entail such political, military, and economic costs for everyone that it would not be easy to recover for decades, not merely years. The repercussions of a major war at the center of Europe would be no less lasting than the ramifications triggered by the Chernobyl disaster, which have persisted for almost forty years. Who would be willing to take such a risk?
We allow ourselves to draw a relevant, if not too original, conclusion, leaving all the forecasts and scenarios of a military conflict at the heart of Europe to the conscience of numerous slacktivists. The only decent way out of the current situation is for all sides to immediately meet at the negotiating table on mutual security guarantees. Russia, the United States, and NATO have all presented their proposals on this matter. The positions of the parties are known. Now we must come to agreement.
From our partner RIAC
Putin’s post-Soviet world remains a work in progress, but Africa already looms
Russian civilisationalism is proving handy as President Vladimir Putin seeks to expand the imaginary boundaries of his Russian World, whose frontiers are defined by Russian speakers and adherents to Russian culture rather than international law and/or ethnicity.
Mr. Putin’s disruptive and expansive nationalist ideology has underpinned his aggressive
approach to Ukraine since 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the stoking of insurgencies in the east of the country. It also underwrites this month’s brief intervention in Kazakhstan, even if it was in contrast to Ukraine at the invitation of the Kazakh government.
Mr. Putin’s nationalist push in territories that were once part of the Soviet Union may be par for the course even if it threatens to rupture relations between Russia and the West and potentially spark a war. It helps Russia compensate for the strategic depth it lost with the demise of communism in Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
However, equally alarmingly, Mr. Putin appears to be putting building blocks in place that would justify expanding his Russian World in one form or another beyond the boundaries of the erstwhile Soviet Union.
In doing so, he demonstrates the utility of employing plausibly deniable mercenaries not only for military and geopolitical but also ideological purposes.
Standing first in line is the Central African Republic. A resource-rich but failed state that has seen its share of genocidal violence and is situated far from even the most expansive historical borders of the Russian empire, the republic could eventually qualify to be part of the Russian world, according to Mr. Putin’s linguistic and cultural criteria.
Small units of the Wagner Group, a private military company owned by one of Mr. Putin’s close associates, entered the Centra African Republic once departing French troops handed over to a United Nations peacekeeping force in 2016. Five years later, Wagner has rights to mine the country’s gold and diamond deposits.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Russian mercenary presence persuaded President Faustin-Archange Touadera that the African republic should embrace Russian culture.
As a result, university students have been obliged to follow Russian-language classes starting as undergraduates in their first year until their second year of post-graduate studies. The mandate followed the introduction of Russian in the republic’s secondary school curriculum in 2019.
Mr. Touadera is expected to ask Mr. Putin for Russian-language instructors during a forthcoming visit to Moscow to assist in the rollout.
Neighbouring Mali could be next in line to follow in Mr. Touadera’s footsteps.
Last month, units of the Wagner Group moved into the Sahel nation at the request of a government led by army generals who have engineered two coups in nine months. The generals face African and Western sanctions that could make incorporating what bits of the country they control into the Russian world an attractive proposition.
While it is unlikely that Mr. Putin would want to formally welcome sub-Saharan and Sahel states into his Russian world, it illustrates the pitfalls of a redefinition of internationally recognised borders as civilisational and fluid rather than national, fixed, and legally enshrined.
For now, African states do not fit Mr. Putin’s bill of one nation as applied to Ukraine or Belarus. However, using linguistics as a monkey wrench, he could, overtime or whenever convenient, claim them as part of the Russian world based on an acquired language and cultural affinity.
Mr. Putin’s definition of a Russian world further opens the door to a world in which the principle of might is right runs even more rampant with the removal of whatever flimsy guard rails existed.
To accommodate the notion of a Russian world, Russian leaders, going back more than a decade, have redefined Russian civilisation as multi-ethnic rather than ethically Russia.
The Central African Republic’s stress on Russian-language education constitutes the first indication in more than a decade that Mr. Putin and some of his foreign allies may expand the Russian world’s civilisational aspects beyond the erstwhile Soviet Union.
Some critics of Mr. Putin’s concept of a Russian world note that Western wars allegedly waged out of self-defense and concern for human rights were also about power and geopolitical advantage.
For example, pundit Peter Beinart notes that NATO-led wars in Serbia, Afghanistan, and Libya “also extended American power and smashed Russian allies at the point of a gun.”
The criticism doesn’t weaken the legitimacy of the US and Western rejection of Russian civilisationalism. However, it does undermine the United States’ ability to claim the moral high ground.
It further constrains Western efforts to prevent the emergence of a world in which violation rather than the inviolability of national borders become the accepted norm.
If Russian interventionism aims to change borders, US interventionism often sought to change regimes. That is one driver of vastly different perceptions of the US role in the world, including Russian distrust of the post-Soviet NATO drive into Eastern Europe and independent former Soviet states such as Ukraine.
“People with more experience of the dark side of American power—people whose families hail from Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, or Mexico, where US guns have sabotaged democracy rather than defended it—might find it easier to understand Russian suspicions. But those Americans tend not to shape US policy towards places like Ukraine,” Mr. Beinart said.
Neighbours and Crises: New Challenges for Russia
Through all the discussions that accompanied the preparation of the Valdai Club report “Space Without Borders: Russia and Its Neighbours”, the most clear question was whether Russia should or should not avoid repeating the historical experience of relations with its near abroad. This experience, in the most general terms, is that after Russia pacifies its western border with its foreign policy, the Russian state inevitably must turn to issues related to the existence of its immediate neighbourhood. With a high degree of probability, it will be forced to turn to its centuries-old method for solving problems that arise there: expansion for the sake of ensuring security.
Now Russia’s near abroad consists of a community of independent states that cannot ensure their own security and survival by relying only on their own forces; we cannot be completely sure of their stability. From Estonia in the west to Kyrgyzstan in the east, the existence of these countries in a competitive international environment is ensured by their link with one of the nuclear superpowers. Moreover, such connections can only complement each other with great difficulty. As the recent developments in Kazakhstan have demonstrated, they are not limited to the threat of an external invasion; even internal circumstances can become deadly.
The dramatic events in that country were intensified by external interference from the geostrategic opponents of Russia, as well as international terrorists, but it would be disingenuous to argue that their most important causes are not exclusively internal and man-made. We cannot and should not judge whether the internal arrangements of our neighbours are good or bad, since we ourselves do not have ideal recipes or examples. However, when dealing with the consequences, it is rational to fear that their statehood will either be unable to survive, or that their existence will take place in forms that create dangers which Russia cannot ignore.
In turn, the events experienced now in relations between Russia and the West, if we resort to historical analogies, look like a redux of the Northern War. The Great Northern War arose at the beginning of the 18th century as the result of the restoration of Russia’s power capabilities; the West had made great progress in approaching the heart of its territory. Within the framework of this logic, victory, even tactical victory, in the most important (Western) direction will inevitably force Russia to turn to its borders. Moreover, the reasons for paying more attention to them are obvious. This will present Russia with the need to decide on how much it is willing to participate in the development of its neighbours.
The developments in Kazakhstan in early January 2022 showed the objective limits of the possibilities of building a European-style sovereign state amid new, historical, and completely different geopolitical circumstances. More or less all the countries of the space that surrounds Russia, from the Baltic to the Pamir, are unique experiments that arose amid the truly phenomenal orderliness of conditions after the end of the Cold War. In that historical era, the world really developed under conditions where a general confidence prevailed that the absolute dominance of one power and a group of its allies creates conditions for the survival of small and medium-sized states, even in the absence of objective reasons for this.
The idea of the “end of history” was so convincing that we could accept it as a structural factor, so powerful that it would allow us to overcome even the most severe objective circumstances.
The Cold War era created the experience of the emergence and development of new countries, which until quite recently had been European colonies. Despite the fact that there are a few “success stories” among the countries that emerged after 1945, few have been able to get out of the catch-up development paradigm. However, it was precisely 30 years ago that there really was a possibility that a unipolar world would be so stable that it would allow the experiment to come to fruition. The visible recipes of the new states being built were ideal from an abstract point of view, just as Victor Frankenstein was guided by a desire for the ideal.
Let us recall that the main idea of our report was that Russia needs to preserve the independence of the states surrounding it and direct all its efforts to ensure that they become effective powers, eager to survive. This desire for survival is seen as the main condition for rational behaviour, i.e. creating a foreign policy, which takes into account the geopolitical conditions and the power composition of Eurasia. In other words, we believe that Russia is interested in the experiment that emerged within the framework of the Liberal World Order taking place under new conditions, since its own development goals dictate that it avoid repeating its past experience of full control over its neighbours, with which it shares a single geopolitical space.
This idea, let’s not hide it, prompted quite convincing criticism, based on the belief that the modern world does not create conditions for the emergence of states where such an experience is absent in more or less convincing forms. For Russia, the challenge is that even if it is technically capable of ensuring the immediate security of its national territory, the spread of the “grey zone” around its borders will inevitably bring problems that the neighbours themselves are not able to solve.
The striking analogy proposed by one colleague was the “hallway of hell” that Russia may soon face on its southern borders, making us raise the question that the absence of topographic boundaries within this space makes it necessary to create artificial political or even civilisational lines, the protection of which in any case will be entrusted to the Russian soldier. This January we had the opportunity to look into this “hallway of hell”. There is no certainty that the instant collapse of a state close to Russia in the darkest periods of its political history should be viewed as a failure in development, rather than a systemic breakdown of the entire trajectory, inevitable because it took shape amid completely different conditions.
Therefore, now Russia should not try to understand what its further strategy might be; in any case, particular behaviour will be determined by circumstances. Our task is to explore the surrounding space in order to understand where Russia can stop if it does not want to resort to the historical paradigm of its behaviour. The developments in Kazakhstan, in their modern form, do not create any grounds for optimism or hopes for a return to an inertial path of development. Other states may follow Ukraine and Kazakhstan even if they now look quite confident. There are no guarantees — and it would be too great a luxury for Russia to accept such a fate.
This is primarily because the Russian state will inevitably face a choice between being ready for several decades of interaction with a huge “grey zone” along the perimeter of its borders and more energetic efforts to prevent its emergence. It is unlikely that Moscow would simply observe the processes taking place on its immediate periphery. This is not a hypothetical invasion of third forces — that does not pose any significant threat to Russia. The real challenge may be that in a few decades, or sooner, Moscow will have to take on an even greater responsibility, which Russia got rid of in 1991. Even now, there seems to be a reason to believe that thirty years of independence have made it possible to create elements of statehood that can be preserved and developed with the help of Russia.
from our partner RIAC
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