Their faces said it all. Since the first meeting between the two leaders, it has been evident that the distance between the two powers is growing. It is not easy to discuss certain subjects like economics or finances when the geopolitical disagreements are increasingly noticeable. Two ghosts were wandering the halls in Los Cabos: the crisis in Syria and the negotiation failure between the powers and Iran. Clinton had paved the way a few days ago, showing the pressure that Washington intends to exert against Russia on these topics. Accusing Moscow of arming Damascus with combat helicopters, knowing that it would irritate Putin — it is difficult to think that the White House was not aware of the tension level that would prevail at the summit.
Many factors indicate what could perhaps turn into a light version of a cold war. Those include, without a doubt, the knowledge that Putin has of Washington’s movements, most notably in the geostrategic zone bordering Russia. Further, there is also the deployment of NATO antimissile shields in Turkey, the urgent need felt by Moscow to counteract through new and more sophisticated weaponry and the Kremlin’s suspicion of U.S. presence in the Pacific, but that is not all.
The Arab Spring (an Arab revolution) has had less of the democratization effect than many originally planned and much more of a geopolitical destabilization impact, in a zone that turns out to be crucial for both super powers. Putin senses that Washington is looking to take advantage of the regional fragility in order to strengthen its influence and break the preexisting alliance system. In light of that, Putin is trying to send all the necessary signals to show that there are areas where he can bear with NATO presence, like Libya, but there are others where he will not yield.
As for Iran, despite the enormous differences, both superpowers at least seem to agree on the need to avoid the war. However, Russia continues to collaborate with the Ayatollah regime in their nuclear program, which bothers the White House. Almost about the same time that Obama and Putin were meeting in Los Cabos, the third round of negotiations with Iran failed. This problem will grow if the next negotiations are not successful. If so, Russia will want to try peaceful avenues, while Washington is already examining other alternatives.
But by far, the issue with Syria is the most delicate, perhaps the most evident example of an up and coming risk. Unlike other countries in the Arab world that have experimented with protest, Syria is one of Washington’s old and open enemies, which Obama can target without worrying about the protection of human rights and liberties speech. Attacking Assad’s regime therefore guarantees the democratic president, and at the same time supports “the good guys” of the movie while driving a dagger into the heart of an enemy alliance between Damascus and Tehran (and his Libyan branch: Hezbollah). Syria, in that sense, presents an ideal scenario for the White Houses’ agenda.
With these intentions, however, it directly correlates with Moscow’s agenda in which Syria is one of the most strategic territories in the region. Assad is an old Kremlin ally. The line that marks the brink of a new cold war for the super powers passes through Damascus. We now know that while Moscow is arming Assad to fight the rebels, U.S. allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, supported by the CIA, are equipping the forces that fight against the dictator, like in the past.
It is no secret, then, that Russia and the European Union head off to places like Syria, towards this type of confrontation with a battle of the interests, fought with arms, intelligence, support, local forces and the common people as canyon fodder. It is a familiar story that both Obama and Putin knew when they greeted each other in Baja California. They could not avoid being betrayed by their long faces.