By Sami Koleib, Al Manar
12, December 2013
The use of the term “Russian Bear” has become commonplace. This is a term that came from the West, perhaps from Britain. That term was meant to distort the image of Russia as a state that is associated with harshness and viciousness. Reciprocally, a rosy picture is used to describe the United States as the “American Dream”. The extent of this comparison, especially during the Cold War, did not seem to bemuse the Russians much. The Russians themselves adopted the idea to the extent that they used the bear as their international mascot in sporting and celebratory arenas. This included the image of a Russian bear playing the balalaika, an image the Russians and the rest of the world loved.
Ever since the former polished-faced ex KGB Vladimir Putin took over the reins in his country, a new image emerged. Today he is referred to as the Master of the Kremlin, transformed into a “lion within the jungle of the international community”, one who grabs opportunities and gets them. The image of the President who is an athlete, a musician, a businessman, an ever-youthful and energetic person, a judo and taekwondo wrestler, despite him being 62 years old, he has become one who was capable of upsetting the easy slumber of the White House and NATO.
There is hardly any exaggeration in this description. Putin has been able to dictate his terms upon the "international jungle", as the term “international community” would be too kind a description. He has forced NATO to review its defence shield policy. He threatened a return to the arms race. He averted most UNSC resolutions that he did not agree with. Together with China and other BRICS nations, he decided to change the path of the mono-polarity of the world. He alluded to establishing a new international monetary fund which would exchange the USD for a new currency. He used a speech he gave in 2008 in which he vehemently said that America needs to treat Russia as an international partner and that the time of mono-polarity has ended and that the rest of the world does not follow Washington’s agendas.
In this "international jungle", Putin made his way to the Middle East resolutely via two avenues; Syria and Iran. He is also capable of getting in via the Israeli gate as Russia has more than a million Israelis of Russian origin. During the peak of the Syrian crisis, he visited Tel Aviv and offered his services as the only party that is able to play the role of mediator between Israel and the countries with which Israel finds it the most difficult to deal with.
Putin realised that the resilience of the Syrian government in face of those who wish to topple President Bashar Al Assad would give Russia more credibility. He never said he was defending Assad, but rather defending international law. This is an important stand for him and the image of his country. He can say that he defended a State and enabled it to remain standing. This gives more credibility to the Russian role. Others defended the other side and found themselves having to" go back to the Russian argument that iterates that military intervention and toppling a government by force would fail and that the departure of Assad, prior to Geneva II, is not acceptable and that priority needs to be given to fighting terrorism. Together with China, he formed an international diplomatic shield to protect the Syrian government and followed that with military hardware, experts and perhaps more.
Certain Western and Arabic States tried to distort the image of Putin. Some of them claimed that he is supporting a dictatorial regime and contributing to Syrian bloodshed. Saudi Arabia said, at some stage, that Russia will lose its interests in the region. Putin did not move by one inch. It became imperative for the Saudi chief of intelligence, Bandar, at the end, to go and visit Moscow (to try to negotiate).
Putin takes another step in expanding his sphere of influence. He sends his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to Tehran to establish a broad based partnership. The stern Lavrov, just like his President, says that Russia is determined to broaden and improve its relationships with Iraq in an attempt to contribute towards stability of that country. Putin affirmed that Iran is a main player in Geneva II.
A few kilometres away the GCC Summit is held. There is a huge concern. For the first time cracks appear that threaten its unity. The Sultanate of Oman, which is close to Iran and Syria, takes a stand that is tantamount to mutiny against the bigger states. The Emirates exile some opponents under the justification of preventing them from political activities. Kuwait sends to Damascus indications of openness despite the concerns of its conservative hawks. All States, except Qatar, declare an open or covert war to curb the Muslim Brotherhood.
What is new in the GCC Summit is condoning the Iranian-Western resolution. This is quite pertinent given that it comes only a few weeks after Saudi Arabia declines to comment on the matter. What is also new here is the unanimous condoning of the participation of the Syrian National Coalition in Geneva II. This is more important as this new deal stipulates that Assad remains in power and also comes after the Syrian Army and its allies are just about to finish taking control of Damascus province after the battle of Qalamoun. Everything else is well known. To expect more out of this resolution would be like waiting to hear of another Israeli settler killing a Palestinian in Jerusalem before the GCC decides that Jerusalem should be the capital of Palestine.
Putin agrees with America that Iran should not have nuclear weapons and that Israel should remain strong. They both concur on the priority of fighting terrorism which makes it imperative that Arab armies remain strong including the Syrian Army. This can diminish the westward Islamic expansion. These are the points of agreement between America and Russia, but their competition is stronger.
Westerners feel the danger of Russian expansion, this is why the West considers it ok to use Ukraine as a gateway (to hit at Russia). Europe feels driven to support the opposition. The American Assistant Secretary of State meets with the Ukrainian opposition. France tries to sabotage the Western-Iranian nuclear deal, and it continues to keep good links with Saudi Arabia after it abandoned Qatar in the hope of upgrading the status of the armed opposition against the Syrian government. None of this seems to faze Russia. Putin continues to go from strength to strength, imposing his own terms.
The time of American military gambles is no longer viable. Putin realises this. Here enters into the scene the chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, General Muhammad Ali Jaafari. He ridicules the recent American-Israeli rhetoric about a military strike about Iran, saying “…any talk about military action against Iran is ridiculous”
The world changes. Instead of adopting the traditional American way of invading countries, invasions that are very expensive and without clear, foreseeable outcomes, at a time when America has serious domestic issues, Barack Obama is more in favour of negotiating peaceful agreements. Vladimir Putin seems more credible as he has been able to achieve a new and serious era that is based on the end of global unilateralism. The global lion does not seem to be prepared to back off at any cost. Russians are once again feeling elated by his enhancement of their national pride. But what will he do with Syria’s lion (Assad)? Will he continue to support him to the end? This is the determinator. There is a conviction in Damascus that Russia would not have won its political battle if the Syrian government fell. The most recent communication between Putin and Assad has partly bolstered this understanding to say the least.
Translated/Interpreted by Ghassan Kadi and Intibah Wakeup.