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Al-Khaleej, UAE

The Syrian Crisis and
Russian-American Relations

By Khalil Hussein

Obama’s description of Putin as a naughty boy sitting in the back row clearly indicates Washington's policies toward Moscow.

Translated By Joseph McBirnie

22 August 2013

Edited by Keith Armstrong

UAE - Al-Khaleej - Original Article (Arabic)

Many observers believe that the Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviet Union. There are multiple versions of this theory, each based on a variety of subjective and objective reasons, yet they all reinforce the perception of Russia's ineffectiveness in the global arena. Apart from the ideological motivations that fuel conflicts today, there are many reasons to reconceive Moscow's relationship with Washington in light of the emerging regional and international crises, including that of Syria.

While there are many actors that determine the status of the relationship between the two countries, the Syrian crisis constitutes an essential factor in determining the future of U.S.-Russia relations, and could have regional and international repercussions.

Moscow has recently considered returning to the global scene as a polar, if not parallel, opposite to Washington, poised to reformulate its previously confrontational foreign policy. In other words, Moscow has resorted to reading America's putative international policies, including those regarding the Syrian crisis, as an opening for its own ambitions, despite the many difficulties and obstacles that it may face in turning that ambition into reality.

It's true that Russia has managed, in this economic, political and social environment, to make a fresh start at the international level over the past decade. But recent developments have emerged that mean that Russia can no longer rely on this environment to stake out its assumed role. The pillars of Russian foreign policy took a practical turn. Attempting to re-evaluate their policies after being seen as unable to adjust and accurately assess situations, Moscow attempted to interfere with the ongoing transformations in the Arab region.

Moscow felt that it had been dealt a severe blow from the handling of the Libyan crisis, where it left empty-handed with little influence in North Africa or the Arab world. Therefore, it has worked hard to concentrate its power in an attempt to restore balance in another region, hence the tug-of-war with Washington in the Syrian arena and Cypriot playground. The question remains as to whether Moscow's movement in this direction will bring Russia what it lost in other areas and demarcate anew its relationship with Washington.

In fact, although Moscow was trying hard to reposition itself to look relatively acceptable, the developments taking place in the Arab region are inhibiting — or at least aren't helping — its diplomatic and practical capabilities. The transformations taking place in non-Arab countries and Syria are difficult to invest in due to high costs and the lack of a solid foundation upon which to build. Therefore, Russia may tip the scales in one direction in the Syrian crisis, but it will not lead to any acceptable results for Moscow under the stresses of Washington in the absence of any dramatic changes to its positions.

A careful assessment of the past relationship between the two countries clearly indicates that a strong competition underlies their current relationship. Outside the Arab world, there may be mutual concessions and a reworking of oppositional stances, but the stagnant disagreements between the two countries over the Syrian crisis indicates the impossibility of finding common ground to resolve their political differences. It also reinforces the supposition that the "Geneva II" conference promised several months ago has not yet been arranged, much less its preconditions.

The complexity of the Syrian crisis, even in its dull political and nonpolitical details, has affected and will continue to affect the composition of the appropriate environment for both Washington and Moscow concerning the reformulation of a normal minimum relationship. Each of the two countries started from nonnegotiable principles, intending to share their spoils and preserve their interests. But the Syrian crisis occurred, as did an environment that highlighted both of their differing attitudes. In such a case, it is difficult to bridge the gaps in order to facilitate international cooperation.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a naughty boy sitting in the back row clearly indicates Washington's policies toward Moscow. In this case, the trouble-making does not seem to have achieved its desired result, apart from getting a reaction out of Washington. We know that this kind of trouble-making can never end happily. There is a long way to go before they can reach a solution to any crisis, including the Syrian one. In fact, the Syrian crisis in particular will contribute to further separation. For circumstances to improve for either side, they will redraw their regional and international policies. This is the outlook for the near future!



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