Sunday, 15 October 2017

Can Russia’s New Role in the Middle East Help Ease Tensions between Tehran and Riyadh

14-10-2017 | 08:30
American logic, recently summed up in a Bloomberg article, blames the Russian military intervention in Syria for decimating the US foreign policy agenda in the Middle East.
Putin Salman
The article, ‘Putin Is Filling the Middle East Power Vacuum’, argues that America’s allies in the region became “disillusioned” when the US military failed to deploy and oust Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad.
“Russia’s clout in the region has grown ‘because Obama allowed it to’,” the article reads.
So the problem is not so much Washington’s foreign policy but the fact that it wasn’t aggressive enough.
According to this logic, a total of 65 fighter jets – the number used by the Russian air force in Syria and one third of its total capacity – was enough to defeat the whole of NATO.
To put such numbers into perspective, one needs to look no further than NATO’s attack on Libya in 2011, when the military alliance used over 200 aircraft – not counting American fighter planes, since Washington refuses to release official figures concerning its participation.
Meanwhile, today’s infamously impotent US-led coalition against Daesh – again, excluding US aircraft – is using at least 105 planes.
As such, contrary to the Bloomberg assertions, the Kremlin’s recent foreign policy successes in the Middle East are not merely the product of bombing raids in Syria. Simply put, Moscow didn’t just outmaneuver the Americans in its ability to properly allocate military recourses, but also in its skillful diplomatic engagements.
Different approaches
The vast potential for Russian diplomacy in the Middle East is best exemplified by the unraveling Iranian nuclear agreement.
As the US opens up new battlefronts with Tehran and its European allies, Moscow is angling for the role of a potential mediator in future talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
While Washington’s elites worked from the shadows, supporting terrorist groups and Kurdish separatists in Iraq and Syria, the Russians expanded their regional role by openly collaborating with legitimate state organs.
These include traditional Russian allies like the government in Damascus, as well as regional powers like Iran. But the Russians also opened up channels with traditional American allies, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
“What the Russians like to do in all regions of the world, and in the Middle East in particular, is establish contacts. They like to talk to everybody,” said the editor-in-chief at, Alexander Mercouris.
“They aim to achieve their own national interests to the highest possible degree and they always work – to the extent that they can – to preserve regional stability, which they also see in their interests. So, by keeping dialogue going, by talking to everybody, they feel that they can facilitate these various processes,” he adds.
The Astana trio
Today’s relationship between the Russians and the Turks is a far cry from just a few years ago, when the two were on the brink of war. In fact, Ankara’s relations with Moscow are drastically better than those it has with its decades-long NATO ally, the US.
Not only are Russia and Turkey relying on one another in Syria, but the Russians are also selling the most advanced weapons systems to Ankara. And the Turks are not exactly shy about letting the world know how they plan to use their newly acquired arsenal.
After finalizing the purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system in September, Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu tweeted an infographic displaying which US planes it could shoot down.
The graphic explains that the system can eliminate such US aircraft as the B-52 and B-1 bombers; the F-15, F-16, and F-22 fighters; as well as surveillance aircraft and Tomahawk missiles.
The Russians reportedly withheld a key system, which allows the rockets to automatically distinguish between friendly and enemy aircraft, ensuring that its own design isn’t used against its fighter jets in the future and that the only planes in the crosshairs of the S-400 are American ones.
Further testifying to just how bad things have gotten between Ankara and Washington is the latest diplomatic spat. Not only has Turkey arrested two of its nationals working in US foreign missions, but the Americans have also suspended visa services in the country.
The collateral consequence of Turkey’s rift with the US and its rapprochement with Russia is a better relationship between Ankara and Tehran.
That partnership was sealed when the Iraqi Kurds – with unofficial American backing and open support from “Israel” – decided to hold an independence referendum.
But it was Russia’s expanding ties with both Iran and Turkey that played a crucial role in establishing trust and a mutually beneficial relationship between Tehran and Ankara.
From working together on the Syrian peace process in Astana – unthinkable just over a year ago – to suppressing Kurdish separatism across the volatile region, the Iranian-Turkish partnership has become the envy of its adversaries.
Both countries recently held joint drills with Iraqi forces, paving the way for direct military cooperation – also unthinkable just last year.
In late August, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “joint action… is always on the agenda.”
“This issue has been discussed between the two military chiefs, and I discussed more broadly how this should be carried out,” he added.
The house of Al Saud moves to Moscow
This month’s visit by Saudi Arabia’s monarch to Moscow marks the start of what could potentially become the geopolitical shift of the century.
Aside from the expected stories about economic cooperation, King Salman’s trip to the Kremlin also delivered a clear message – and most importantly to Washington.
Opting to join Ankara in becoming another US ally to buy the Russian S-400, the Saudis also secured a license for manufacturing assault rifles from the Kalashnikov family.
However, unlike the Turks, who were motivated to turn to the Russian military industry by their growing list of disagreements with the US and NATO, as well as financial issues, Riyadh doesn’t share any of those problems.
Saudi Arabia’s motives are purely strategic – a search for military autonomy from the increasingly unstable Washington clique.
Speaking at a news briefing after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir claimed that Riyadh and Moscow believe in the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs.
Despite the fact that this claim is a blatant lie given Riyadh’s support for Wahhabi terrorism that destroyed a number of countries, its obvious allusion to Washington suggests that the Saudis are distancing themselves from the shrinking US geopolitical sphere.
Thus, the leadership in Riyadh may be looking to follow in Erdogan’s footsteps in more ways than one.
Shortly after Salman departed from Moscow, Russia felt comfortable enough to offer its services as a mediator between Tehran and Riyadh.
Needless to say, bringing the Iranians and the Saudis together would be a monumental undertaking, plagued by existing suspicions and the clearly defined ideological differences dating back decades.
It is not logical to assume that Iran and Saudi Arabia can suddenly become partners or that the Russians will enjoy the same degree of success that they had when acting as a bridge between Tehran and Ankara. But at the very least, Moscow’s mediation may insure that the two do not live in a constant state of tension.
“[Russia] is trying to harmonize and approximate the differences between many players,” said Nabil Mikhail, a professor at the George Washington University. “Increasingly Russia is being trusted more than America, and it can play the role of some sort of an arbitrator, working to narrow the differences amid very thorny issues in the region.”
The same way that Ankara’s improving relations with Tehran and Moscow helped to pacify Syria, Riyadh’s decision to come to the negotiating table would pave the way for an end to the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen as well as Saudi Arabia’s rift with Qatar.
These diplomatic maneuvers represent the biggest threat to American-fueled chaos in the region and a far greater concern in Washington than the 65 Russian jets bombing terrorists in Syria.
Source: Al-Ahed News

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