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Surge of Russian influence in Middle East at US expense

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap] merican efforts to support the opposition by arming them directly and through Arab nations have brought Russian forces there and now Russia is firmly footed in Syria, influencing Arab nations and Israel. With which it coordinates certain terror operations.

Syria is unofficially divided and destabilized, thousands of Muslims have been murdered by all “stake holders” in Syria, both Muslim and non-Muslim as well as anti-Muslim forces – objective of global anti-Islamism and Islamophobia.

Fall of Aleppo

Shift in Russian policy for West Asia by joining the fighting foreign forces led by USA, destabilizing Sunni Syria misruled by a Shiite president, has worked miracles for president Putin as Russia is seen as a formidable force in the world to take on US militarism..

Syrian Aleppo has finally fallen to Russian forces favoring President Assad.

As Aleppo rebels are defeated in an asymmetric fight, and UN and Western leaders prove unable to protect civilians from what they expect to be retribution by the regime, comparisons abound to the Russian pounding of the Chechen capital, Grozny, in the 1990s, and the Serbs’ slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men in Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.

Russian intervention in Syrian war has now almost ensured, thanks to president Putin’s firm commitment to dictatorial dynastic misrule of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad that he can just enjoy his remaining life without even holding any referendum, let alone elections, to continue his misrule and claim legitimacy for presidency for the rest of his life.

Apparently, for the Arab nations and Iran, fear of America would soon be the fact of the past as the ongoing Russian war maneuverings in Syria targeting Muslims in the Arab nation may have impressed the rulers in the region as well as Israel and, more importantly, Russian effort is helping Assad stay in power against the will of the world’s super power USA. Having complicated the conflictual situation in Syria, Americans do not seem to have clues to end the war and possibly looking to the Kremlin to find some solution, even if not a long term one.

Ending wars of course is not the US idea.

Syrian leader Assad’s key allies Russia and Iran could claim that the victory over rebels in Syria’s second city Aleppo advances their standing in the region in the globally.

The bombardment of rebel-held east Aleppo by Russian forces, the Syrian army, and Iran-led militias has been unprecedented in its intensity, even by the standards of Syria’s brutal six-year civil war. The blitz has also been effective at removing rebels – some of them backed by the USA, others Islamic jihadists ¬– from their most significant urban stronghold in Syria.

Russia dramatically stepped up its intervention in September last year, its first projection of hard power beyond former Soviet borders in decades, reportedly at Iran’s request. Soon after, Obama said “it just won’t work,” and predicted that Moscow would get stuck in a “quagmire.”

President Putin, however, has pointed to Western failures in Syria, and last week told the NTV channel that “the world balance is gradually being restored. The attempts to create a unipolar world failed.”

So Russia seems to have outsmarted its arch rival USA in Syrian war but with no quick end to the conflict, they are likely to push for a political solution if they sincerely seek peace in West Asia.

With Russia maintaining upper handling war operations in Syria, Arab nations could now rely on Russian terror goods instead of depending on costly US weaponry.

Iran’s challenges

For Iran, that means expanding the influence of its “axis of resistance” against the USA, Israel, and their allies. For Russia, it marks a critical step toward restoring past influence, even as American power projection and willingness to engage in the Middle East declines. “This is what really matters to Iran and Russia, that the political, geo-strategic project of the anti-Assad and anti-Iranian position has failed, and it has been buried in the Aleppo rubble,” says a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics who has studied the history of ISIS. “Syria really could be a signpost for the emergence of a new international system.”

Iran has supported Assad from the start with advisers – losing numerous high-ranking officers along the way – and mobilized the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah. It has also marshaled thousands of Shiite militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Pakistan to fight in Syria.

Few predict that the departure of rebel forces from Aleppo means the end of the Syrian war, which will continue as a guerrilla fight on many other fronts. And analysts say there are limiting factors to the current ascending influence of Iran and Russia. The brief cease-fire that fell apart did so amid wrangling between Russia and Iran about how and whether rebel fighters – all of them considered “terrorists” by pro-Assad forces – and tens of thousands of trapped civilians could be evacuated from the remaining sliver of ground they control.

The Assad “victory” in Aleppo has also been dented by Islamic State (IS) fighters’ recent recapture of Palmyra, the ancient city held and damaged by IS earlier in the war that was reclaimed by Assad forces with great fanfare last spring. “There was big hope that this victory in Aleppo would shatter the morale of the Syrian opposition, and it would begin to crack, and there would be serious defections,” says a defense columnist for Novaya Gazeta in Moscow.

Iran faces its own challenges, not least because of uncertainty about how a new government under President Donald Trump may improve ties with Russia at Iran’s expense. So it, too, is inclined to seek a political solution. The perception in Tehran is there is no military ending in Syria.

In other words, since Assad has won the nasty battle and would stay forever, it is a good time to go for a negotiated solution, because from a position of strength it is easier to convince Assad to give concessions, rather than a position of weakness. Some conservative factions in Iran revel in the Aleppo victory of “resistance,” that view “is not going to be shared universally. Iranian forces are also overstretched. We know there is no light at the end of the tunnel. “Any tactical closeness of Russia and the US may hurt Iran, and so their preference would be to quickly turn that victory into a negotiated solution.

That is to say if USA, Russia and Syria think seriously about   ending war and rebuild the economy of Syria and strengthen Mideastern politics and economy.

Unfinished task?

However, even after seizing all of Aleppo, Assad still controls only one-third of the country. Russia and Iran therefore see the war in Syria as continuing, and are likely to press for a political solution to the conflict.

President Assad is celebrating his most significant battlefield victory so far, even though Iran-Russia squabbling interrupted what was supposed to be a final cease-fire, and images showed block after block of pulverized neighborhoods – punctuated by terrified citizens’ please on social media “save Aleppo.”

Assad told Russian television that liberating Aleppo doesn’t end with liberating the city itself, it needs to be secured on the outside. The next target, he said, “depends on which city contains the largest number of terrorists.” But the strategic reverberations of Aleppo’s fall reach far beyond Syria’s second city and signify a retooling of power dynamics in the Middle East.

It is here that Russia and Iran invested military power and orchestrated an outcome they desired, preserving the Assad regime and preventing a takeover by USA or ISIS and even greater chaos. At the same time, they defeated the half-hearted effort pursued by anti-Islamic USA and its allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to remove Assad by backing rebel groups.

There was a triumphant tone in Iran, as well. “Resistance paid off; the horns of America and House of Saud broken,” ran one headline in the hard-line Kayhan newspaper. “The liberation of Aleppo is the defeat of all political, military and arrogant powers in one spot of the Muslim world, where the flag of resistance has been hoisted,” declared Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The human cost continues to grow, with the fight for Aleppo and its years of regime barrel bombing in the city contributing heavily to the war’s death toll of some 470,000. Among reports of atrocities on both sides, the UN said that 82 civilians had been killed by pro-Assad troops as well. Heavy shelling of the city resumed with the collapse of a Russia-announced deal for the departure of rebel fighters. n“For Aleppo they gathered everything they could. Hezbollah brought in two fresh brigades.… The Russians organized a Grozny-type very heavy barrage that worked. But at the same time, the Syrian second-rate infantry was overrun in Palmyra, caches of weapons were seized, intervened in the morale-crushing effect of Aleppo.

Yet as Russia stepped up its intervention in Syria, the quagmire scenario grows, along with the risks. Russia waited a bit to launch the final hit on Aleppo. An official from the Kremlin had explained in May that it will be a bloodbath in Aleppo and Russia had to make a serious political decision. As the extent of that bloodbath sinks into the Sunni Muslim world, there can also be repercussions over murdering Sunnis in Syria. There is none indeed to shed tears over the genocides of Muslims anywhere in the world, including Syria or Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Millions have been slaughtered by fascist forces led by USA and EU and supported by Israel and its state terror ally India.

Another limit may be the cost for Russia, which one general recently said has shipped 700,000 tons of terror goods like military equipment and weaponry to Syria via the Bosporus waterway in Turkey. The problem is how long Russia can maintain such a policy, when it runs out of resources with Western sanctions remain in place and notwithstanding Russian efforts to end or at least ease they refuse to end the economic punishment of the Kremlin. And that is a serious burden on the Russian navy and the Russian budget. There is also the problem of Russian morale here just of American prestige.

Russia’s experience in other conflicts, therefore, is behind its push for a political settlement.

The Syrian army is thinly spread and dispersed in many areas. Assad can never impose his centralized control on all of Syria anymore. In fact, what we see today as a significant military gain for Assad, could, experts say, easily mutate in a year or so into Afghanistan of the 1990s. And Russia knows this.

Without a political settlement, Syria will remain a battlefield for many years to come.

What is Russia’s goal in Syria?

Hard pressed by its economic sanctions, Russia with its intervention in Syria has clearly challenged the imperialist unilateralism, any way and under President Trump no more such military misadventures could be expected. President Obama made a decision not to involve, not to entangle, not to invest major political and military capital in the Middle East. “It’s not the lack of capability; it’s the lack of will”. The frequent WH statements about ending US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no desire to start new ones is encouraging. In contrast, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a strategic investment, and so far the returns are excellent.

A year ago the Kremlin appeared to be stepping up its role in the Syrian crisis, possibly laying the groundwork for a new strategy against ISIS in the region. In order to achieve meaningful results on the ground, Russia would need to send thousands of well-trained troops to Syria as well as a significant amount of military equipment. Presently there are well less than one thousand of Russian personnel operating in the country, and judging by recent images of Russian landing ships crossing the Bosphorus, trucks and armored personnel carriers. The news of Russian troops appearing across Syria has appeared in numerous media outlets around the world in recent days.

The financial burden of engaging in fighting in order to help Assad’s army regain ground without any guarantee would be extremely heavy on the Russian budget. Some suggested that just as in previous years, Russian specialists are merely training Syrian President Assad’s army to use Russian equipment that Moscow keeps sending to Syria, while others went as far as to suggest that newly-arrived Russians are fighting on the front lines alongside the Syrian army.

Only a few months ago, reports suggested that Russia could have been changing its Syria strategy and might abandon Assad. Russia even withdrew its diplomatic staff from Damascus and stopped honoring its agreement with Syria to maintain Russian-made fighter jets. But now there is no denial that in recent months Russia has slightly intensified arms deliveries to the Assad government. In fact, the latest data shows that in the first 8 months of 2015 Russian southbound landing crafts passed the Bosphorus 39 times, compared to 36 times in the same period of 2014.

After Ukraine, Moscow can’t afford another major deployment of troops, both financially and politically especially with western sanctions in place. Moscow knows the price of such a policy all too well. The US reaction to initial reports of Russia boosting its presence in Syria was quite harsh. White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested that Russia’s involvement would lead to an escalation in the conflict and even to direct confrontation with the coalition taking on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS). Direct involvement in this crisis is also risky due to Western sanctions that theoretically could be toughened over Syria.

Russia and Syria reactivated the 1980 “friendship” treaty that sees Moscow taking over the Latakia air base. Russia has reportedly delivered its newest BTR-82A armored personnel carriers (APCs), Ural trucks and shipments of firearms to the Syrian government. It has also allegedly started assembling prefabricated buildings for 1,000 military specialists in Latakia to establish a broad anti-ISIS coalition. Russia has been continuously delivering cargo to Syria, both humanitarian and military. As well, Russia could be setting up a mobile air traffic control unit.

Are Russian forces really fighting for Assad? Vladimir Putin’s intentions with regards to Syria are both domestic and foreign, particularly . Despite reports claiming that Russian troops were seen taking part in action in Syria, engaging in direct fighting is off the table for the Kremlin, at least for now. Probably the most important reason why Russia would think twice before sending its troops into battle in Syria is that it would certainly be used for PR purposes in Russia’s North Caucasus by ISIS to recruit new Russian-speaking fighters. But it would be even more detrimental to the Kremlin if ISIS captured a Russian soldier in Syria whose brutal execution would set large groups of Russians against the Kremlin’s irresponsible strategy.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Moscow continues to provide military equipment per previously signed contracts; in addition, Moscow continues to send Russian military specialists to train the Syrian army to use this equipment. Some reports suggest that most equipment that Russia delivers to Syria these days is intended for the military base in Latakia.

Observations

By increasing its military presence in Syria, Russia may also be raising the ante in the ongoing negotiating process with the Assad government. So much so, now Western governments would have to deal with Russia instead of Assad regarding Syrian future or military deals. .

The big question now is whether the USA under Trump will continue to push Europe to hold Russia accountable — something that is currently in doubt, given President-elect Donald Trump’s open admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his selection of Russia-friendly Exxon Mobil boss Rex Tillerson for very important post of secretary of state. President-elect Donald Trump’s Russian sympathies have raised the possibility of a shift in US foreign policy vis-a-vis Moscow.

The devastation in Aleppo and the rollover of sanctions against Russia was part of the EU summit agenda on December 15.   While the summit ultimately sent a strong message to Moscow about the EU’s willingness to extend sanctions and support Ukraine, in reality EU foreign policy towards Russia is predicated on what happens next in terms of US foreign policy and the ongoing political maneuverings in Syria. European Union leaders recently decided in Brussels to extend sanctions against Russia until July –sanctions that were imposed after the annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014

The moot question is will the anti-Islamic nations , condign Arab countries, leave Syria even without going for the rebuild costly operations from Syrian resources by dividing the construction-destruction works   among all of them, and China and Israel- the anti-Islamic nations waiting for orders?

Clearly Russia has firmly stay put in West Asia including Mideast and the Sunni Gulf states are already singing military deals with Moscow, pushing the US super power, the traditional shareholder in the region, to sideways.

Russia’s expanded role in Syria is yielding some benefits. Moscow is being courted by Persian Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, and is rebuilding ties with Turkey and Egypt – all of them traditional US allies. Palestinian leaders have also requested Putin’s help in convincing arrogant Israeli PM B. Netanyahu to resume peace talks – a role long played by Washington. Israel just wants bogus talks and it abruptly cancels by putting conditions, difficult for the Palestinians to accept. .

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The Case For Israel- Book Review

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The Case For Israel by Alan Dershowitz, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.2003

In his book, ‘The Case For Israel’, Professor Alan Dershowitz, sets out a “proactive defence for Israel” (p.1) and he does so in a manner that addresses the core and more fundamental premise that, Israel and its citizens have the right to exist in peace and security. With this focus, Professor Alan, sets out the narrative in the form of 32 key accusations against the state of Israel, which he then sets out to answer/defend. Interpreting facts and drawing conclusions as only a lawyer can, Alan does not hesitate to draw parallels with American Colonists seeking separation from the state of England, when he refers to the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Having worked on this book from the year of 1967, with the first publication in 2003, the defence is unarguably exhaustive and honed with great skill and there is no dearth of historical references being used to state his case. All this assumes even greater importance when one acknowledges the growing Anti-Semitic sentiments in present day Europe and even the United States of America(Leff). Truly and unfortunately, not much seems to have changed since the inception of this book in 1967 and now, as far as the need to justify the existence of the state of Israel is concerned.

It may be said that the chief strength of this book lies in the fact that it rejects extremist claims of both sides, i.e. the Palestinians and the Israelis, just as the Peel Commission did in 1937 and most of the world does today. Professor Dershowitz in a sense carries forward the premise as acknowledged by the UN (and the Peel Commission) that both the Palestinians and the Jews had valid but irreconcilable claims with partition being the most realistic solution given the “two intense nationalisms” (p.65).

 In order to buttress his advocacy for a two state solution (which to him is the premise of the book), he points to the emergence of several Islamic states through a process of partition. Consequently, Alan Dershowitz, repeatedly drives home the point that, the Palestinians repeatedly rejected the Two State Solution, with not just Yasser Arafat’s’ contrarian’ (p.72) comments to Arab leaders at Stockholm after the Oslo Declaration(U.S Govt Office of the Historian) but also the failed Clinton driven initiative at Camp David (2001)where Yasser Arafat walked away without even making a counter proposal given his rejection of the proposed plan. Undeniably, as cited by Alan Dershowitz, and voiced by Prince Bandar, in his interview to the New Yorker Magazine, when he said (off the record)that Arafat’s refusal was “a tragic mistake- a crime really”(Walsh). Arafat’s refusal and consequent escalation in terror attacks even though ultimately engineered to win Palestinians world sympathy, were none the less, acts of terror.

In Alan’s words the world including the UN seemed to reward Palestinians for their acts of terror. According to AD, Israel on the other hand has repeatedly been subjected to double standards when it comes to judging its response to acts of terror at the hands of Palestinians.  He is utterly convincing in this regard when he points out that while Israeli soldiers are governed by a rigid code of conduct, Palestinians, eschew any such binding and routinely employing children, young adults and even women for committing acts of terror.

It would do us well to understand at this point that in the background of Alan’s defence for the state of Israel, is the recurring theme that the Jews of the First Aliyah of 1882 had legitimately and continuously bought land (mostly un arable) from absentee landlords (Arabs), often at exorbitant prices. In addition, AD also posits the premise that the problem of Arab refugees is a deliberate act emanating from actions of Arab Rulers and a factor perpetuated by the Palestinians as they kept demanding that the 4 million Palestinians should be allowed to return to from where they fled. Clearly, in the not so distant past there was an exchange of population which took place when 850,000 ‘Arab Jews’ living in Arab countries landed up becoming refugees while correspondingly, the 1948 war waged by Arab rulers against Israel saw Arabs migrate outwards from what is now Israel. What is pertinent in this regard is the fact that the ‘Arab Jews’ were attempted to be absorbed by present day Israel, the Arab leaders were not interested in absorbing these Arab refugees, choosing to mostly let them fester in camps instead of integrating them in to their more homogenous population.

In a sense, as pointed by AD, Arabs are more interested in denying the right of existence to Israel than they are in the formation of the State of Palestine. In fact, the words of Bey Abdul-Hati, a prominent Palestinian leader as addressed to the Peel Commission in 1937 “There is no such country ……Palestine is a term Zionists invented ……” (p.7), underscore the fact that Palestinians, historically, always, wanted to be a part of Syria. If this had not been so, and if nothing else, the most generous terms of settlement as offered by Barak in 2001as a part of the Clinton initiative. would have settled matters once and for all.  A corollary to this is Alan’s admission that even Israel faltered when it did not implement the Alon Plan(ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES) which would have given the population centres of the West Bank to the Arabs, while retaining some unpopulated strategic areas.

A possible criticism of this book certainly lies in the fact that, Professor Alan has unilaterally chosen the (possible) accusations and his defence is one without adjudication of any sort. Hence, in such a situation, it is the reader who must sit in judgment and   decide for himself/herself as to the merits and the validity of the evidence presented on behalf of the defendant- The State of Israel. Again, given the fact that Palestinians choose not to acknowledge or care for historical facts, we should not ‘crucify’ Israel even when historical and other facts (as cited in the book) speak in its favour. Given that we live in a less than perfect world, this “Jew Among Nations” (p.222), needs to be given its due as the only democracy and least theocratic state in the Middle East and should be judged by a yardstick that is not too different from the one used for its comparable ‘peer’ nations like, France England, USA and Canada when it comes to issues like morality and ethics. What better proof can there be, of democracy in Israel, given Joint Arab List’s splendid performance in the recent Israeli elections.

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Russia and Syria: Nuances in Allied Relations

Aleksandr Aksenenok

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The foreign policy strategy of any state includes a certain set of means and ways to ensure the practical achievement of its goals. Searching for allies or temporary partners that will help serve a specific purpose has always been an essential part of this strategy. In the past, the belief was that this was primarily the concern of “smaller” states interested in forging an alliance with a strong patron. However, the sharp imbalance that has emerged in international relations in the decades since the collapse of the USSR has shown that large states that are engaged in global politics are just as interested in building various types of alliances and partnership as “smaller” states. Sometimes even more so. Recent diplomatic practice has demonstrated that keeping such relations on an even keel demands that the parties delicately balance their understanding of the limits to their mutual concessions and constantly check that they are “on the same page.” The latter is done to preserve confidence in rapidly changing circumstances that are often beyond their control and, most importantly, to ensure they do not present each other with an impossible choice, which is something that happened between the United States and Turkey within NATO, and quite recently in the Union State of Russia and Belarus.

Metamorphoses of U.S. politics from Clinton to Trump demonstrate how the benefits from allied relations may transform into a tarnished image. Having failed to adapt to a world in which it has lost its global dominance, the United States under Obama and particularly under Trump chose to neglect traditional diplomacy, which involves finding ways to align the possibly diverging interests of allies. In regard to Europe, this policy was encapsulated in the withdrawal from multilateral trade partnership agreements, the use of NATO to exert pressure on allies, the introduction of sanctions, and the employment of other methods of gaining unilateral economic and political advantages.

The Middle East is even more indicative in this respect. Within a very short period of time, U.S. foreign policy in the region has oscillated between extremes. America’s allies in the Gulf were alarmed when Obama, looking to be “on the right side of history,” rapidly withdrew support for Mubarak when the protests in Egypt broke out (in February 2011) and when the United States effectively gave in to Iran in the struggle for influence in Iraq. Trump’s demonstrative turn towards Saudi Arabia, coupled with the U.S. withdrawal from the multilateral agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme and the subsequent policy of applying “maximum pressure” on Iran, negatively affected U.S.–EU relations, caused a split in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and failed to allay their concerns regarding the reliability of the United States as an ally. Finally, the concessions to Israel, which no U.S. President had dared make before (no matter how their Middle East policies zigged and zagged), added new wrinkles to the issue. As a result, the Trump administration approaches the 2020 presidential elections with an unprecedented burden of problems in its relations with its North Atlantic allies, in an almost complete isolation owing to its illegal actions in the UN Security Council concerning the lifting of the Iranian sanctions, and having generally lost its moral and political prestige.

In the same period of time following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia had failed to fit into the architecture of pan-European security and was faced with a choice: given NATO’s territorial expansion and the ineffectiveness of such collective mechanisms as the CIS and OSCE, what policy should it pursue moving forward? Does Russia see its future self as an independent centre of power with a free hand? Or does it want to be an influential actor within new alliances and integration unions? The answers to these questions are more or less clear today.

Russia is steering its own course in relations with the West, acting in its own interests, yet not shutting the door on an equal dialogue designed to search for points of contact on the most conflict-ridden problems. At the same time, Russia has made efforts to build a sub-system of inter-country alliances to counterbalance the NATO–EU pairing. These efforts have led to multilateral diplomacy guided by the principle of “going as far the other party is prepared to go.” These efforts have resulted in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the military–political arena, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) alliance in the geopolitical arena, and the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and the Customs Union in the trade and economic arena. Compared with western alliances that entail transferring part of one’s sovereignty to supra-national bodies, members of these unions are more free in their commitments, although they share Russia’s stance on the key issues of global politics.

Following a brief hiatus in the 1990s, Russia returned to the Middle East, no longer shackled by ideological clichés. The very paradigm of Russian–Arab relations had changed. They were no longer characterized by unilaterality and were developing over a wide spectrum. Pride of place was given to such foreign political landmarks as the achievement of national security in the face of new threats emanating from the chronic instability in the region, the support for Russian businesses, and the measures to counteract external intervention aimed at regime change for the sake of political expediency (in extreme cases, this would be done by force, but mostly it would be done by establishing networks based on coinciding interests). These were the landmarks that Russia used to guide itself post-2011, when the Middle East entered a protracted era of reconstruction. This pragmatic approach was largely responsible for preserving business partnership relations with Egypt, Iraq and Algeria, all of which experienced regime changes, as well as for building coherent relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, where existing differences on conflict settlement do not get in the way of bilateral cooperation in trade and economy and coordinating policies on the global energy markets.

Russia gains certain benefits from its ability to maintain business partnership ties with all the regional and non-regional actors in the Middle Eastern conflicts, including Turkey, the Kurds, Hezbollah, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian authorities in Ramallah and Gaza. At the same time, it is clear that this situation and, in particular, the widespread concept of Moscow as an “impartial mediator” or “honest broker,” is with increasing frequency being used for unseemly purposes, such as shifting the responsibility for the actions or inactions of other parties in the region or outside it onto Moscow. In today’s new multi-layered conflicts, no single actor is capable of holding all the settlement threads in its hands.

Russia and Syria: Questions of War and Peace

Russia and Syria have gradually become allies since the civil war broke out in the Middle East state in 2011. The leaders of both countries have said as much, and it is taken as a given in the West and the other countries in the region.

At the same time, the complicated entanglements of relations both in and around Syria have prompted certain questions from our colleagues and institutional partners in the Damascus Center for Research and Studies. Most of them are quite logical and do indeed need to be discussed at the expert level to begin with.

Russia and Syria have a long history of cooperation in many areas, and the countries were particularly close during the presidency of Hafez al-Assad, the outstanding statesman who enjoyed worldwide respect. A Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed back then, but it was more of a framework document that did not impose any specific international legal commitments on either party. These were relations of trust that withstood the test of the war with Israel in 1973 in the Golan Heights and the Civil War in Lebanon (1975–1989), where Syrian troops fought and Soviet military advisors participated indirectly. There were also disagreements on the situation in the Palestinian movement and the attitude to Yasser Arafat personally. Yet these differences were resolved through regular trust-based dialogue at the highest level and through close military-political consultations.

In the 1990s and the early 2000s when Russia, burdened by its domestic problems, “withdrew” from the Middle East, Russia–Syria relations were in decline. After being elected president, Bashar al-Assad steered a course for Europe, for Jacques Chirac’s France in particular, viewing it as a centre for containing the United States, which had accused Syria of supporting the Iraqi resistance to the American occupation [1]. Bashar Al-Assad’s first visit to Russia took place in 2005. The agreements achieved at the highest level covered a wide range of issues in military-technical and economic cooperation in the context of Syria fully settling its debt, and they gave a new impetus to developing bilateral relations in the changing geopolitical circumstances.

In 2011, the civil conflict in Syria transformed into an armed confrontation. Since then, Russia–Syria cooperation has been dominated by its military component. Russia directly intervened in the conflict at the request of President Bashar al-Assad, a fact that was accounted for by the intergovernmental agreements between the two countries, which, unlike the largely for-show agreements concluded with a number of Arab states in the past, set out specific commitments for both parties. The relations were thus given a new quality. All efforts were channelled into repelling the terrorist threat and saving Syria’s statehood. In the run-up to the decisive intervention of the Russian Aerospace Forces, most military experts around the world agreed that the “terrorist international” had made it as far as the suburbs of Damascus, and that regime change was imminent, even though Iranian units and Lebanese Hezbollah were fighting in Syria.

Five years later, the military and administrative infrastructure of Islamic State has been destroyed, the armed opposition is weakened, and the remaining pockets of resistance no longer posit a real threat to the al-Assad regime [2].

Back then, the objectives were clear and, naturally, there were no questions as to what the Syrian people expected from Russia. Why did Moscow and Damascus experience an upsurge of information attacks along the lines of “who needs whom more”? What are the reasons for the “uncertainties” and “doubts” that Syrian political analysts ponder in a friendly manner, wondering whether or not Russia intends “to give up on Syria and leave the regime to deal with the increasing pressure” from the United States? What changes have happened now that the active phase of the conflict has ceased?

The official statements from the Russian side leave no doubts as to its principled stance. Keeping air force and naval bases in the Mediterranean is a strategic move, meaning that Russia does not have any “withdrawal scenarios.” According to the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, materiel support for the Syrian operation does not exceed the funds budgeted for defence. It is flexible and generally tends to shrink as military action deescalates.

Legitimizing “entry” is another matter entirely, both from the point of view of legal documents concluded between Russia and Syria and on a broad international scale. And it is something that does not depend on Russia alone. Fundamentally, it should be in the interests of Damascus itself. That is, the two countries are effectively doomed to find a balance of power in the long term, both in a war that cannot last indefinitely, and during the post-war period. Our point here is clear: using political realism as a stepping stone, Russia and Syria need to properly balance common strategic goals and search for optimal ways to deal with possible tactical differences.

A Hierarchy of Priorities

It is noteworthy that, in his analytical article, my esteemed colleague Aqeel Mahfoud describes the current situation in Syria as a war with “no end in sight” and asks Russia such questions as: What is the “middle ground” between “‘high costs’ and ‘low returns’ … between ‘retreating’ from Syria and ‘continuing’ the course?” It is thus clear that certain “misunderstandings” have emerged, and in order to properly analyse the prospects, we need to jointly access the essence of the point in time we arrived at after five years of allied cooperation.

Our general assessments are essentially the same. The challenges and threats that Syria currently faces are economic, a destructive effect of the sanctions, and the U.S. “Caesar Act” in particular, with the coronavirus pandemic making the situation worse. The reality is that there are virtually no prerequisites for implementing major post-war reconstruction projects in Syria. Most Syrians are fighting for survival in the face of growing prices, food, power and fuel shortages and a destroyed living infrastructure. The Syrian government is mobilizing its limited financial resources to mitigate the socioeconomic consequences for the regime, focusing on supporting business activities and preserving the system of subsidies. At the same time, it is quite clear that resolving the problem of the economy’s uninterrupted functioning cannot be solved without urgent outside assistance. It is also obvious, however, that, unlike in the case of Lebanon, the sources of such assistance for Syria are very few.

The Russian government, in turn, is doing everything possible to provide real aid to the people of Syria (urgent deliveries of grain, pharmaceuticals and equipment in the form of grants or through contracts; reconstructing civil infrastructure facilities, communication lines; providing humanitarian aid, etc.). The government is encouraging Russian businesses to cooperate with Syrian companies more actively through public-private partnerships and by granting them most favoured nation status. It should be said, though, that the method of “giving commands” has little effect in the Russian economy compared with Soviet times. Russia expects the Syrian government to take further steps to set up both central and local governance systems that would ensure corruption is dealt with, offer preferences to foreign investors, make sure that laws are obeyed and that the “military economy” would give way to normal trade and economic relations as speedily as possible. President Bashar al-Assad’s address to the members of the newly formed government can be seen as a major step in this direction.

It should be noted in this connection that the article published by the Damascus Center for Research and Studies focuses on Russia, and most questions are addressed to Moscow as if it holds some kind of a “magic key” to resolving all the problems. At the same time, practical advice and friendly criticism are perceived as “pressure” and “interference.” As for the negative dynamics, what is Damascus’ attitude to the fact that after the active military phase was over, little changed aside from the strengthening of “psychological pressure” and tightening of the “economic noose” on Syria? And regarding the positive dynamics, what conclusions should the Syrians themselves draw concerning the balance of power and political steps that should be taken? These important aspects slid under the radar of our Syrian colleagues. We would like to understand what is meant by the phrase “returning to the ‘requirements’ of UN Security Council Resolution No. 2254 […] would bring us back to March 2011.”

Russia’s position on the issue of the Syrian settlement, President Vladimir Putin has said on numerous occasions, proceeds from the premise that a military solution is impossible. At the talks held with Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Geir Pedersen in Moscow on September 3 (which took place only a few days after the session of the Constitutional Committee’s Drafting Commission in Geneva), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov confirmed that Russia supports Pedersen’s efforts to help the Syrian people come to an agreement themselves on constitutional reform in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 as a sovereign state and one of the guarantors of the Astana process. This stance has been approved by the “Astana Troika,” it is known to the Syrian leadership and does not prompt open objections.

Some Russian political analysts that are in the know expect Syria, and probably President Bashar al-Assad himself, to spearhead some major initiatives that will jumpstart the Geneva process – not as a return to the 2011 status quo, but as a means of restoring Syria’s territorial integrity and bolstering the country’s statehood on the inclusive foundation of national accord. A flexible approach on the part of Damascus and a better understanding of its intentions would certainly help Russia, giving it more solid ground in its contacts with western and Arab partners. In the current reality, Syria can hardly be “rehabilitated” economically without coordinated international efforts. This is the kind of convergence of interests that would make it possible to bring together external aid and progress in the intra-Syrian dialogue into a single stabilization package.

Another important set of issues raised by our Damascus partners pertains to Russia being “an ally for Syria, Israel, Iran and Turkey” in the continuing conflict and to what the nature of Russia–U.S. contacts is.

It is no secret that the foreign political services of both countries have always maintained a working exchange of current information. This is particularly true of the current situation. My many years of experience in the diplomatic service (in Syria among other states) allow me to state confidently that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation regularly informs the Syrian leadership about its talks with its western and regional partners on issues that concern Syria. If there is any “uncertainty” within the Syrian public or the Syrian expert community about this fact, it might rather be explained by Russia being excessively guarded about sensitive information that concerns its relations with its allies, or by Russian media’s inability to demonstrate any kind of subtlety when it comes to foreign political steps in this area and properly explain Russia’s intentions to the world at large. Incidentally, Syria itself is far more guarded and “secretive” in its media coverage of its relations with Russia – and this coverage is often, quite frankly, far more tendentious.

Most Russian experts view Russia–Syria relations on the matters of war and peace as a relationship of “twins” connected by “kindred threads.” Their western colleagues share this point of view, indicating that the United States and Europe no longer tie compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 with Assad’s “removal.” Instead, they adopted the concept of constitutional reform and democratic elections under the UN’s supervision. It is natural for allies in protracted and convoluted conflicts to have some misunderstandings. Aqeel Mahfoud notes that “the Syrian people understand […] that Russia does not approach the issue from a Syrian perspective.” The main thing is that if strategic “constants” are in place, which is undoubtedly the case, then periodical tactical differences should be resolved in a timely manner, on the basis on openness and trust.

At the level of government and opposition forces, the Syrian people should take into account the fact that Russia has its own global interests that do not always coincide with those of the Middle East. Russia–Syria relations cannot be equated with relations with influential regional actors, which are based on different considerations. But one thing brings them together: a common history, coinciding interests in regions outside Syria and mutually beneficial cooperation, including in the military area. It is thus wrong to posit an “either/or” question.

On the other hand, a realist assessment of the situation “on the ground” reveals that the existence of particular situational arrangements with Israel and Turkey is something that benefits Syria itself. Let us take, for example, agreements on southern Syria, in which Israel unofficially participated. It was these agreements that allowed Syria to regain control of its southern provinces, provided that it complied with the terms that did not breach its sovereign rights. Russian officials did not hide the fact that it meant withdrawing Iranian and pro-Iranian military units from the 80-kilometre security zone and using national reconciliation principles to form local authorities. Russia is entitled to expect Syria to comply with these conditions.

Or let us take the agreements reached between the presidents of Russia and Turkey on March 4, 2020, concerning Idlib and which were achieved as part of the implementation of the de-escalation zone agreement developed by the “Astana Troika” with Syria’s participation. This development makes it possible to avoid the worst-case scenario, which would not have been in the interests of Syria, Russia and Turkey. In no way does it change the attitude towards the Idlib problem as part of the principled approach to restoring Syria’s territorial integrity and the joint fight against terrorism.

As for U.S.–Syria relations, Russia is pursuing a realistic policy here aimed at preventing incidents that could result in an armed clash, and at the same time is searching for opportunities to interact in those areas where the interests of Russia and the United States may coincide without detriment to the “strategic constants” of Russia’s relations with its Syrian ally. Recently, tensions in northeast Syria, where the U.S. military presence is concentrated, have increased noticeably, which makes further developments less predictable. Consequently, the parties focus specifically on the “de-conflicting channel” and simultaneously draw “red lines” that should not be overstepped. Politically, Russia endeavours to promote understanding between Damascus and the Kurds on their constitutional status, which increases the chances of restoring Syria’s territorial integrity as part of the post-conflict settlement.

Memories of the Future

They say that “it is difficult to make predictions, particularly about the future.” The issues outlined by our Syrian partners for the “strategic dialogue” are so broad that it is impossible to cover everything. In conclusion, I would like to make a few brief remarks.

The Syrian people are known to hold different views of the country’s situation and of Russia’s role in Syria’s affairs. Part of civil society is currently outside Syria, and they are by no means terrorists or Russophobes. Consequently, as it supports Bashar al-Assad, Russia emphasizes an intra-Syrian agreement on a model of Syria’s future state that would ensure the country against bloody civil wars. Clearly, there can be no return to 2011, and the Syrian people themselves should decide how to reform their state and society. During the protracted wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans, the United States was engaged in social engineering and state-building, but these tasks proved too much for them. Russia also had its own regrettable experience in Afghanistan, since every war has its own logic that sooner or later outweighs politics.

As the summer 2021 presidential elections approach, a feeling of hopelessness and anxious expectation is engulfing the international community and Syrians of various political persuasions. Numerous scenarios, largely pessimistic, are being developed – as far as the “Balkanization” of Syria or even a clash between the United States and Russia or between Russia and Turkey on Syrian soil.

There is thus only one thing we can say: if compromise solutions are found, the settlement of the Syrian conflict could serve as a precedent for the global community and a key to undoing other conflict knots. Alternatively, if the right conclusions are not drawn from the lessons of 2011, Syrian settlement may turn into a time bomb for Syria’s sustainable domestic development.

 [1]Kleib, Sami. The Destruction of Syria or the Departure of Assad? Moscow: Biblos Konsulting Publ., 2018. pp. 66–70.

 [2]Islamic State (IS) is a terrorist organization banned in Russia.

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Iran- Turkey Partnership: A New Front in Libya

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There is strategic consensus among political elites currently ruling the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey states. Despite of few turmoil, both states want to retain cordial relations that can lead towards the support of each other’s national sovereignty and stability.

Eight years after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya continues to struggle to end its violent conflict and build state institutions. External actors have exacerbated Libya’s problems by funneling money and weapons to proxies that have put personal interests above Libyan people. Libya myriad armed militias led by general Haftar really hold and sway nominally backing two centers of political power in the east and west with parallel institutions. General Haftar is backed by NATO member states of France, Russia, Egypt, UAE and Saudi and on the other hand, Tripoli administration, the international recognized government, known as the government of national accord under the leadership of prime Minister fayaz AL Sarah is being backed by the United Nations, Turkey, Qatar and now Iran. The collaboration of Iran and Turkey in Libya is going to mark another hallmark in the historical relationships of two neighbor power.

From past to present, Iran and turkey have seen multiple strains in their relations. The history of relations between turkey and Iran can be dated back to the sixteenth century, when two competing imperial systems, the ottoman and the safavids, consolidated their rule ship over respective countries. Turkey and Iran were both imperial centers, and the modern states established in these two countries are considered to the successors to the ottoman and the safavid imperial rule that had dominated most parts of western Asia for centuries.

As the nearby an imperial system, territorial and political conflicts prevailed over the ottoman-safavid relations against interval periods of peace. The emergence of west oriented nation states in turkey and Iran in 1920, under the leadership of Kemal Turk and Raza Pehlevi facilitated further cooperation between two states.

By in the late 1970, when the Pehlevi monarchy was overthrown by the Islamic revolution, it was difficult to discern containing patterns of accord signed between political elites of both states. Parallel to the turkey’s “New” Middle East foreign policy started in the early 2000s, turkey – Iran relations have undergone through unprecedented periods of rapprochement. Ideological and security issues that dominated the relations between two neighbors have been gradually replaced by the pragmatic considerations on each side. Increasing volume of economic interaction, security and diplomatic cooperation on a number of issues and fulfillment of energy demand by turkey were the highlighted initiatives of that era. Ankara domestic exemption level of oil and gas had increased. To overcome this issue, turkey signed $23 billion agreement of worth oil for next 25 years. Overall, trade level between Iran and turkey increased by many time comparable to the past decade. The amount of trade increased from $1.2 billion to $4.3 billions between 2001 and 2010 and reached $10 billions in 2015.

The spread of Arab spring provided an other opportunity to both Iran and turkey to exploit the emerging New order in middle east. Both states attempted to launch their ideologies in the Arab states. Iran wanted to spread Muslim revolution although turkey wanted to spread democratic values to exert more influence in the Middle East.

Turkey’s role in the Iranian nuclear dossier has been often portrayed as that “facilitator “and bridge builder between Islamic Republic of Iran and the western camps of negotiations. Turkey has basically no interests in the Iran nuclear weapons but being a critical of international sanctions, turkey has always stressed the need of political solution of Iranian nuclear crisis. They don’t want to enter into the nuclear race with the Iran but support them to acquire nuclear weapons but for peaceful energy purposes under the guidance of NPT and IAEA.

Geographical proximity has always forced turkey to cooperate with Iran economically despite of divergence in political and ideological outlook. Common membership in regional organizations, however, provided a pragmatic bond of cooperation on issues of regional and neighbor countries. All the same, Turkey and Iran relations have been undergoing a deteriorating in the walk Syrian Civil War. Turkey supports the anti elements of president Bashar Al Assad’s who is the true state ally of Iran in the Middle East and provide safe path to support the Hezbollah in the Lebanon. Kurdish issue has also engaged the turkey who suspects of Syria and Iran of backing the Kurdistan worker party.

The Libya, a state situated in the north Africa region has become a new playing field for power and resource hunger states. After the overthrown of Qaddafi regime, multiple groups started to claim the legitimacy in the state. The authorities in the east led by the General Khalifa Haftar controls the most part of the state as it is claimed by his representatives since April 2020, he has been striving to control the capital. He has been supported by the Russia, Egypt, NATO member France, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia while Tripoli government recognized by the United nations is backed by the Turkey, Qatar and now Islamic Republic of Iran. The entry of Saudi and other anti Iran allies has invited the Islamic Republic of Iran to sway and evaluate its involvement in this crisis.

Iran has announced his support for the Turkish-backed Libyan government of national accord based in Tripoli. Javed zarif visited Istanbul and during a press conference and stated“We seek to have a political solution to the Libyan crisis and end the Civil War. We support the legitimate government and we have common views with the Turkish side on way to end the crisis in Libya and Yemen.”

Moreover, Gvusoglu,The Foreign minister of turkey reiterated Turkey’s opposition to US sanctions on Iran. He further added “Iran’s stability and peace is important for us”

Sarya ansar, the Shia backed Iraqi militia, also operating in the Syria has entered the Libya to support Turkey. Security and defense cooperation agreements have been signed between Turkey and Iran and following the information of International revolution guard coast an affiliated ship has delivered the weapons to the militias in Libya.

Most of Libya’s vast territories and oil resources are much desired by the resource scarce Turkey. Further, Turkey under the leadership of President Erdogan wants to regain its old status and territories of ottoman empire. The formation of new Islamic block is being predicted which would be comprises of Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar, Pakistan Tunisia and Libya. Moreover, Turkey is striving to put more pressure on the Europe to award her a membership of European Union. The strategic position in the Persian Gulf, strait of harmuz and Ankara controls of the Bosporus strait are sole basis for energy cooperation between two neighbor powers. The support of Iran militias would provide strength to the Turkey in Libyan and will force the anti government elements to bow down head in front of government of national accord.

On the other hand, Iran has found an opportunity to spread Islamic revolution in sunni dominated state. It would help Iran to reorient the relations with Turkey. From the statements of foreign minister of Turkey, it is evident that they want more positive relations with Iran. Iran is the state who have second largest oil and gas reserves in Middle East. Turkey can provide a platform to raise the sanctions issues to Europe and United States of America. The ongoing conflicts in Syria and Kurdistan issues could be resolved by taking joint actions of both states and through this way stable political and economical relations would be achieved. The identical stance on Israel issue would strengthen the relations in positive way. Despite of political differences, both states have defended the stronger Bilateral cooperation

To cut the long story short, Iran-Turkey relations have seen ups and down phases in the history but they are much significant for each other’s stability in the region to fight with common enemy. No doubt that Turkey wants to achieve its high ambitions in the Middle as well as in North Africa to be a main player but right now, Iran needs more economic strength and Turkey could provide her this opportunity. This cooperation can facilitate the shattered economy of Iran in broader perspective. Libya is a new front providing the opportunity to both states to come more close.

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