It’s the ultimate geopolitical cliffhanger of the season: will US President Barack Obama finally decide to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, either this Friday or during the UN General Assembly next week in New York?
Russia’s game changer in Syria – not only weapons delivery but also the prospect of actual intervention by the Russian Air Force – has left the Beltway reeling.
Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walled Muallem has made it clear to RT that direct Russian involvement in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh and those “moderates” (US neocon designation) of Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. Al-Qaeda in Syria, is even more important than the arms delivery.
Washington, meanwhile, remains mired in a geopolitical black hole as far as Putin’s strategy is concerned. The Obama administration’s response will hinge on how Putin’s speech at the UN will be received across the world, and how the frantic diplomacy related to the Syrian theatre of war will fare.
It’s naïve to interpret the Russian military build-up as a mere show of force, an invitation to the Americans to finally sit down and discuss everything from southwest Asia to Ukraine.
It’s also naïve to interpret the move as Moscow’s desperation for some kind of dialogue, any dialogue. There are no illusions at the Kremlin. Obama and Putin exchanged a few words in Beijing late last year – and that’s it; no official visits, no detailed meetings.
What’s certain is that Putin’s latest chess move carries the potential to smash to pieces the Obama administration’s post-Maidan“strategy” of isolating Russia. Thus the predictable fear, loathing and paranoia permeating the Beltway.
Old Cold War 2.0 habits die hard – if at all. Washington may extend the proverbial “financial support” to failed state, bankrupt Ukraine, and the pressure over the EU to keep sanctions throughout 2016 will remain. US ‘Think Tankland’ keeps frantically spinning that the Obama administration is “not ready” to deal with Russia.
Well, at least the White House and the State Department seem to have finally understood that those Sukhois and surface-to-air missiles now in Syria are there to protect the Latakia air base. It was up to the Pentagon to elucidate a clueless John Kerry; these are for “force protection”.
The new batch includes 4 Su-30SM multirole combat jets; 12 Su-25 ground attack jets; 12 Su-24M attack fighters; and six possible Ka-52 attack helicopters. According to IHS Jane’s, these provide “a significant capability to target rebels opposed to the Syrian government and to secure the Latakia homeland of President Bashar al-Assad.”
The elucidation came after Pentagon supremo Ash Carter and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a 50-minute phone talk. The fact that this was their first phoner in more than a year tells everything one needs to know about the Obama administration’s“diplomatic” skills.
Inevitably, Kerry had to change his tune; the weapons do not raise “serious questions” anymore. Now Kerry is essentially saying Moscow has the right to turbo-charge its peace-for-Syria drive, and the White House is not fussy about Assad’s departure date anymore, as long as there is a “transition”.
Watch the chessboard
Putin is bound to deliver a showstopper at the UN. Spare a thought for the Obama administration’s foreign policy ‘muppets’, including the neocon cell at the State Department. Putin, under the glare of global public opinion, will frame the absolute defeat of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh as the key geopolitical issue of these times; he will commit Russia to it; and he will propose for the “West” to join in.
Scenario 1: Washington and its EU minions decide to support the Russian drive, or at least have the US-led coalition of dodgy opportunists work side-by-side with Russia – and Iran. This means helping Damascus to win a real war against (“Caliphate”) terror.“Assad must go” may even go afterwards. But he’ll go as a winner. The Obama administration – as well as Sultan Erdogan, Qatar, the House of Saud – will be held responsible all across the world for prolonging a tragedy that could have been resolved in 2012. And Russia will be recognized as the ultimate defender of civilization against barbarism.
Scenario 2: Washington and the EU minions refuse to act side-by-side with Russia, and continue relying on the appalling performance of the coalition of the dodgy opportunists – for instance, as in Erdogan bombing Kurds and not ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, and the French staging puny airstrikes invoking “self-defense” (I’m not making this up; it’s the official Elysée Palace version.) The whole world will interpret it for what it is; the NATO-GCC combo is not really interested in smashing the Salafi-jihadis. Imagine the cataclysmic diplomatic/geopolitical fallout of five years of NATO-GCC enabling hardcore jihadis.
And there’s of course the coda; if the Syrian Arab Army/Russian military push against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh works, guess who’ll take the credit.
So Putin wins on both scenarios. Forget about the relentless demonization, the new Hitler-Stalin memes. ‘Putin The Great’ will be no less than a Slavic Perseus – the slayer of the jihadi Medusa.
The great power is back
But there’s more, much more. Whatever the scenario, 1 or 2, Putin is simultaneously masterminding a Ukraine endgame, which involves the end of sanctions, probably by 2017. The nations that really count in the EU want to scrap them. And scrap them they will if Putin does what they can’t possibly do; smash the “Caliphate” that is sending wave after wave of refugees towards Fortress Europe.
Here I examined how any possible peace in Syria will be Putin’s fault. Now imagine the consequences. Russia back as the real indispensable nation – in the Middle East and beyond. And Russia back as a great power – period.
Some signs of intelligent life in the EU can see it coming. Enter Helene Carrère d’Encausse, Russia-expert historian and member of the venerable Académie Française since 1990, of which she’s the perpetual secretary. Madame d’Encausse clearly understands how Putin sees himself as the heir of Peter The Great; a great modernizer.
And even as he recognizes Europe is not the center of the world anymore, Putin is not an adversary of Europe. Nevertheless, he firmly believes that for the Americans and Europeans Russia is a country that can be treated with disdain. That must be imperatively reversed.
‘Putin The Great’s’ project is to make Russia regain its status of a great power. When he was elected to the presidency in 2000 – I remember it well, I was in Moscow covering it – Russia was in total chaos, perpetrated by unbridled neoliberalism. Putin got Russia back on track.
What he wants most of all – contrary to superficial drivel reigning in US ‘Think Tankland’ – is not to remake the Russian or Soviet empire; but to get rid for good of the humiliation of the 1990s – the decade of plundering – and make the nation proud again. Just check his popularity level; 85 percent of Russians – and counting – agree.
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia. Born in Brazil, he’s been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong.