In a telegram to the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Syrian President Bashar Assad expressed his confidence that the tragic death of Qassem Soleimani “will further strengthen the axis of resistance against destructive U.S. policy in the region.” Which axis is he talking about exactly? Is it just a figure of speech? Or is something more serious taking place? Something concerning the prospect of a closer union between Eurasian countries and peoples in defending their interests in the face of a growing external threat? Having manifested itself in a series of color revolutions, which caused a sharp increase in regional instability, this threat, now that this wave has subsided – rebuffed in Syria and reversed in Egypt – turns out to be the new guise of state terrorism.
If, at the start of the 2010s, the disfavored rulers and regimes of Eastern countries were being overthrown by local “activists” who had been inspired by Facebook, then today, global hegemony does not want to “be fooled” by politesse, and is taking a head-on approach under the terrorist principle of “no person, no problem.”
Of course, talking about an “axis,” Assad, strictly speaking, was a little hasty and jumped the gun. But not by much. At least, all the signs that the diplomatic work connected with the materialization of regional unity, or more precisely, of a group of united countries, are there, and this can also be clearly seen in the scale and momentum of the bilateral contacts which have been taking place in the days following the tragedy at Baghdad's airport. What is revealing is that, while these very intense exchanges are taking place (more on this later), those who present themselves as Iran’s regional opponents have gone silent and are not commenting on the situation – Saudi Arabia, for example. And conversely, those whom these opponents not too long ago accused of being in league with the Iranian Ayatollah regime, primarily Qatar, have audibly and explicitly condemned the American action, placing responsibility for the escalation of tensions in Iraq, which could “result in unimaginable consequences,” on the U.S. This is a very significant indicator that a certain prototype for an “area of consent” in the region is gradually being formed; one that is not so much anti-American, but which reflects fears for the countries’ own sovereignty under conditions where the hegemonic power is clearly “bursting its banks.”
Obviously, it’s still early to be talking about something concrete. Nevertheless, let’s examine the outlines of two potential unions that are directly related to each other, as well as a minimum of two plots that are being carried out by foreign players outside the region. Importantly, you could say Russia occupies a central position in this configuration. After having emphasized the unacceptability of such a gross and cynical violation of the norms of international law, the head of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, explicitly outlined a circle of foreign contacts. In addition to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to whose attention the Russian position was brought without any extenuating politesse, Lavrov held telephone conversations with colleagues from three countries. It is these countries that are quite obviously key to the current situation. Talks were carried out with the head of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, with whom Lavrov came to an agreement concerning “the serious consequences of the American action both for the world and for the stability of the Middle Eastern region.” An even closer pact assessing this action as a “gross violation of the fundamental norms of international law” was made in a conversation with the head of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zafir. This is the first potential alliance which has been sealed in the form of a threesome and which has already led to a series of high-profile meetings at the very highest level, after having taken the helm of the peace settlement in Syria.
Russia maintains its strongest cooperation with Iran and Turkey. There are minimal problems within this threesome, except for the issue of ground participation in Syria with Tehran and in Libya with Ankara. However, Libya is not a component of the Middle East combat theater which has developed around the Syrian crisis, but the joint patrol of politically disloyal Syrian-Kurdish zones close to the Turkish border is a measure of the density and reliability of Russian contacts with Turkey regarding Syria. There is still tension between Turkey and Iran, mainly relating to Ankara’s NATO membership; obviously, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not burning with desire to exacerbate his already difficult relationship with Washington, and Turkey is hesitant about these latest developments. This has not gone unnoticed in Tehran, where President Hassan Rouhani has urged his Turkish neighbors to “rally their efforts to resist the aggressive policies of the U.S.” On the whole, there are more points of agreement between Moscow, Ankara and Tehran than there are points of conflict. The White House and the Pentagon’s anti-Iranian act of terror has actively brought the positions of these three capitals closer together, if only due to the threat to regional stability that it presents.
Another of Lavrov’s "telephone partners" was the head of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, and here the discussion went way beyond the consequences of the American action in Baghdad. Having emphasized the “full convergence” of Moscow and Beijing’s positions, the Russian diplomatic leader announced his readiness to “support the close cooperation with the Chinese side in order to play a constructive role in the de-escalation of tensions in the region.” In agreement with the Russian assessment, Wang Yi underlined that China “is closely following the worsening tensions between the U.S. and Iran and opposes the misuse of force in international relations,” and said he considered the military ventures unacceptable.
Discussion about the barbaric assassination of Qassem Soleimani was had within the general context of progress in Russian-Chinese relations, which, based on the logic of recent events, suggests that everyone is increasingly more organized in resisting American hegemony. The view was expressed that Russia and China bear the most responsibility for protecting the world and global stability, and that they intend to maintain close contact in the sphere of strategic stability. It is important to remember here that last summer, when the Americans tried to exaggerate an international scandal concerning the situation in Chinese Xinjiang, the Persian Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, along with Russia, put up the only resistance to Washington. An alliance here is still far off, due to the seriousness of the Saudi Arabia-Iran and Saudi Arabia-Qatar conflicts, but the desire of the Arab countries to solve controversial issues in Eurasia on their own, without foreign expansionist interference – a desire that they have in common with China and Russia – is obvious. How clear and systemically important the nature of an extremely close Russian-Chinese bond is, which is being spread out at a regional level with the help of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. So, taking into account Iran’s “special” relationship with Russia and China, another threesome is being drawn up, two participants of which – Moscow and Tehran – are included in both of the tripartite endeavors at once. Therefore, these two threesomes might unite, but Turkey’s relatively strict stance on Xinjiang, in which it disagrees with Beijing’s policies, is still standing in the way. However, this doesn’t appear to be an unresolvable conflict: China is taking decisive steps toward normalizing the situation in its autonomous region, such as widening the democratic norms of rule and carrying out an unprecedented campaign supporting its economic and social development. It’s possible that Ankara will be paying close attention to this, and will side with the Chinese, particularly so it does not get left behind by the general trends of development in Eurasia.
And so, Russia-Iran-Turkey, and Russia-Iran-China: This is how the “axis of resistance” against the destructive American policy mentioned by Assad looks from a schematic point of view. Many countries of Greater Eurasia are included in this axis, not as a whole, but within the framework of the “area of agreement;” that is, when it comes to definitive concrete issues. We mustn’t forget about Pakistan, which, as well as maneuvering between the West and East in India, appears to be a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.* We also cannot forget about North Korea, whose role in the resistance to American expansionism has been reinforced by the nuclear factor. Nor can we forget about Afghanistan, where the interests of all internal Eurasian players are intertwined, but where the U.S. and other Western countries engaged in Afghan events also have a strong external influence.
It goes without saying, that we can’t forget about Saudi Arabia, which, on the one hand, remains firmly in Washington’s cage, as well as being part of the anti-Iranian coalition, the axis of which appears to be a regional alliance between the U.S. and Israel. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is striving to strengthen its security in the region with albeit limited criticism of the more sensitive aspects of American regional politics. Last but not least, we should remember that the Saudi government was “sentenced” to fragmentation and dramatic reformation by none other than those very Americans as part of the “Greater Middle East Plan,” published in 2006. This threat must be taken seriously in Riyadh.
So, this external plot of Eurasian alignments relating to America’s attempts to preserve, and, if possible, increase its political influence and military presence, is colliding with the counter vector of this “axis of resistance,” the Eastern wing, which today has been supplemented by its Western counterpart, which in some respects is a distinctive moment of truth.
We are talking here about the significant contact between Moscow, Beijing and Paris. Since President Emmanuel Macron entered the Élysée Palace, he has long been trying on the role of new Europe’s future leader. Thus, Paris has not missed an opportunity to form a demonstrative opposition front with Washington, periodically infuriating President Donald Trump.
Many issues came up during a telephone call initiated by France between Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin. From the point of view of the issues being examined here, the most interesting subject was the Russian leader’s acknowledgment of the close cooperation with Turkey concerning control over the situation in Idlib, the most volatile Syrian province. The Russian and French leaders were preoccupied with prospects of aggravating the regional situation in connection with America’s terrorist act in Baghdad.
It’s quite significant that Macron, literally in defiance of the White House, has particularly now expressed support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program, from which Trump withdrew on his own initiative two years ago. That very same circle of issues was raised during telephone conversations between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the head of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian. Le Drian stated clearly that his country “is against the application of force in international relations and also considers it necessary to respect the territorial sovereignty of Iraq.” In the minister’s words, the French, together with China, and with Russia, based on Putin’s reassurance to Macron a day earlier, are intent on helping to prevent escalation of tensions caused by the terrorist act against Soleimani. Could this external projection of French influence be any more explicitly anti-American? What kind of impact will this have on U.S. foreign policy? Or on Trump personally, just before the presidential election? These are rhetorical questions, however.
So, where does that leave us? The risk that Trump has taken on behalf of his own domestic political ambitions is becoming increasingly less justifiable. The barbarity of America’s “enlightened” terrorism has generated a huge wave of universal outrage, providing a favorable setting for resistance to Washington’s expansionism from all regional entities. And, for the first time, the signs, if not the outlines, of a general Eurasian approach to the situation on the continent have begun to grow, which, at a minimum, is calling for the restriction of foreign influence in the region.
The impact of the consolidation of anti-American sentiment is substantially enhanced by America’s emphasis on the modesty of the notorious Big Brother’s satellites. Whoever is not ready to firmly and publicly condemn what has happened after having taken a position among their bilateral contacts with the other interested parties, is doing so quietly and under their breath, blaming the aggressor by default and refusing any commentary that might look like a display of loyalty. Or they are, at the very least, afraid of expressing support for the aggressor, fearing its wrath less than the threat of serious regional isolation. On the continent, there is a growing consensus that the U.S. did not simply do something wrong, but crossed a red line beyond which there is no control and events can take a tailspin. Nobody wants this, and everyone is scared.
Significantly, the Russian-Chinese partnership, which is becoming a more important basis of stability, has passed the latest test in the acute phase of recent events. We can assume that without this partnership and without the steadfast position taken jointly by Moscow and Beijing in advocating for Eurasian interests, the list of those opposing American lawlessness would be much shorter than it actually is. Precisely because of this, the first, albeit implicit, lessons of this initial new phase demand to be absorbed.
*Editor’s note: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a Eurasian political, economic and security alliance created in 2001.