US Unready for Russia’s Return to Great Game in Middle East

Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama’s confrontation yesterday at the U.N. was vigorously discussed in lobbies, on the sidelines of the meeting, and in New York’s other public places around Manhattan. The general impression comes down to the fact that Putin has a new, hard-to-realize plan, while Obama has an old plan that was never realized.

The main obstacle to an appreciation of the Russian president’s proposals lies, on the one hand, in the total mistrust of the motives of Moscow’s actions in the world, and on the other, in anxiety over Russia’s return to the Middle East as a military force. The Americans have gotten used to thinking that 1973, during the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, was the last time Moscow’s position was taken into account.

Putin’s intensive contacts with the leaders of Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia; the conclusion of intelligence-sharing accords among Iraq, Iran, Syria and Russia’s intelligence services; Iraq’s refusal to close its airspace to Russian warplanes — these are evidence of the seriousness of Russia’s intentions to return to the Great Middle East Game.

Putin’s CBS/PBS television interview, in which he had no difficulty whatsoever finding answers to the tricky questions of Charlie Rose, an indisputable media authority in the U.S., could not have come at a better time.

Most of the experts with whom I’ve had occasion to converse understand that a “defeating the Islamic State group — replacing Assad” sequence of operations looks more pragmatic than Obama’s plan of “removing Assad — defeating the Islamic State group.”

Washington, by the look of things, can’t react quickly to Moscow’s new proposals. Political limitations arising from the unfolding primary campaign and the simultaneous existence of several influential centers of foreign policy-making force Obama to maintain the appearance of consistency in carrying out his policy with respect to Russia, Syria and Ukraine. And it is a consistency in implementing ill-advised decisions, and consequently ill-advised actions, too.

Most analysts criticize the policy of airstrikes without a boots-on-the-ground operation for its lack of practical concentration on a result, namely, taking back territories from the militants. The planes drop their bombs, but the militants crawl out of the cracks and continue to control the territory.

Many experts have pointed to the possibility of the nomination of current Vice President Joe Biden as a presidential candidate for the Democrats. Supposedly Obama wants it to happen because he doesn’t really like Hillary Clinton and doesn’t want her to win. But within the vice president’s sphere of influence is Victoria Nuland, who, one gets the impression, makes decisions that her boss, Secretary of State John Kerry, isn’t expecting.

Kerry himself hits it off really well with our Sergei Lavrov. At least there is trust between them. They’re the two governments’ only pair of officials/counterparts who trust each other.

Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs doesn’t like Nuland, believing that with her active interference on the Maidan and actions in the style of Senator McCain, she has undermined her reputation as a diplomat.

Nuland’s closeness to Biden is a factor of the White House’s foreign policy. Not everyone likes it and that’s why one increasingly hears talk about the need to investigate the fate of the IMF’s $1.7 billion tranche to Ukraine, with hints at the involvement of a number of prominent persons in its disappearance.

Many in the U.S. consider Putin’s position on Syria reasonable. But no one is capable of explaining how to create a coalition of Muslim states to fight the Islamic State group if Washington is skeptical about it.

As far as Ukraine is concerned, I didn’t encounter a single expert who would give credence to the Russian version of events, or recognize anyone’s right to annexation or separatism.

Therefore, it’s thought that in his conversation with Obama, Putin tried to convey to the American president that the meeting in the “Normandy format” in Paris on Oct. 2 would demonstrate the Kremlin’s consistent position on the question of Ukraine’s territorial integrity — without Crimea, which, as is well-known, our top brass doesn’t discuss at the international level.

All in all, Putin and Obama’s speeches at the U.N. General Assembly in the year of the 70th anniversary of its creation have inspired optimism that despite all of the disagreements, no one is going to dismantle the organization. An alternative multilateral platform for adopting legitimate solutions to international problems in the world doesn’t exist.

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About Jeffrey Fredrich 199 Articles
Jeffrey studied Russian language at Northwestern University and at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He spent one year in Moscow doing independent research as a Fulbright fellow from 2007 to 2008.

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