In the dominant narrative in diplomatic circles, west is the euphemism for United States (US)-led initiatives. It is Washington, never Obama, Hollande (France) or Cameron (UK). German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in a league of her own and in the view of this writer, a leader par excellence with her feet on the ground. Before the fall of the Berlin wall, it was the Soviet Union and its allies, but now it is Putin, not Moscow and never Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made numerous mistakes, but on Syria he has been right. He should know. After rising to the position of lieutanant colonel of Russiaâs intelligence arm the KGB, he has worked closely with Hafez-al Assad, father of Bashar-al Assad and knows the region like the back of his hand. The father was called the âfoxâ of the Middle East after his track record of not having made a single diplomatic mistake during his nearly 30 years of absolute power in Syria which included bloody spells.
Like a grandmaster making chess moves, Putin had proposed in 2014 that it was futile to isolate the younger Assad when looking for a semblance of peace to return to the country and region. He was laughed out of the circle of savants including at a meal during a G-7 meeting where he was left to eat alone after which he left the summit. Putinâs hands as well of Assadâs are soaked in blood, but not bloodier than the western coalition (read George Bush) that bombed childrenâs hospitals during the Iraq war and called it collateral damage or foisted the bogey of weapons of mass destruction to continue the killing spree. This post is not about a bloody race to the bottom. It hopes to profile some facts in the public domain.
As punditry, arrogance and ignorance wash up following the terrorist attack in Paris that has left over 120 people dead and 300 injured, among them 80 critical, the issue that must no longer be buried is the challenge of peace, however rickety, thrown at western nations by Russia. What does it say? Well, nothing that the west doesnât know but continues to ignore, unwilling to cede power to Russia as a major player in the region and beyond.
Putinâs mantra comes with Russian interests embedded but so does that from other major nations. Earlier this year Putin and Russian officials suggested to Americaâs Barack Obama and other western leaders to work towards a negotiated transition to make Syria a federation of autonomous regions. This would speak to the Kurdish, Alwite-Christian and Sunni populations, possibly fuelling the start of diplomatically managed negotiations after Syria had put down terrorism. In addition to addressing ground realities, this plan mirrors what Moscow and the Europeans see in Ukraine. Russia has been working on this for centuries and it fully comprehends what âmodernisationâ entails for countries formerly in its fold. President Obama said Putinâs plans are âfoolhardyâ, and he is spending money Russia does not have. For the record, the west is reportedly $5 trillion into the war, death and refugee toll that began with the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Paris attack this weekend was not about Muslims and the rest of the world. The ISIS, which has claimed responsibility, believes that the world was irreparably broken by 9/11 and its aftermath and now wants people to choose between the ISISâ version of Islam or be damned by remaining in a camp of Kufr or non-believers. One option that has been suggested is to leave the ISIS and other Islamic groups it considers enemies, to destroy each other and the thousands of innocent people caught in between like in Beirut and Paris this week. The other is to swallow pride and seek solutions. This route will be bloody as well, but nations have the capacity to bang heads together and drag leaders to the negotiating table. This requires political will.
Will the G-20 nations meeting in Turkey today bite the bullet? Highly unlikely as any European suggestion to Ankara to pull the plug on supplies to ISIS would mean a larger refugee crisis at its doors. At last count, 4 million people had left Syria en route to Turkey and finally Europe. Turkey, the westâs newest best friend is happy to kill two birds with one stone â keep aid flowing and have the Kurds in trouble.
The ground reality in Syria could not have escaped the attention of strategists and thinkers in the G20. The Assad government is a sovereign entity albeit one that is gasping for breath. It is a member of the United Nations (UN) with embassies around the world making it ready for talks once terrorists are eliminated. When that will happen is difficult to predict, but Washington mercifully pulled the plug on its $500 million programme to train a âmoderate oppositionâ via a Syrian-Arab Coalition. What is âmoderateâ when both sides are armed to the teeth?
Western intelligence agencies have gone into a spin correctly highlighting that Bashar-al Assad is playing a double game to ensure his survival. That makes him a politician. Sections of the media see Russia as having strengthened Bashar al-Assadâs hands with intensified bombing and cruise missiles launched from warships in the Caspian Sea. It is highly likely that Russian troops will be deployed â if not done already - to back Syria and its allies on the ground. This may be the reason for the government offensive against Islamic militia stacked against Damascus. That makes Moscow and Damascus allies. Politicians joining hands to secure a common objective is realpolitik.
Since Russia kick-started its support for Damascus last month, it has become fashionable among spinners to question Putinâs motives â Putin, not Russia. This is not a helpful question since the answer is known. But, what does Washington want? Some say its aim is to bankrupt Russia and bring it to its knees. However after 48 months of facing the worldâs most powerful military and intelligence apparatus, Syria is a catastrophe beyond anything one could have imagined when anti-Assad protests began in the spring of 2011. The much-feted Arab Spring has unleashed a genie few understand and all fear.
The toll of death and devastation in the Paris attacks is slated to increase. The angry and the unemployed in France are easy targets for religious preaching and recruitment â hate against a hated system is opium. One person who escaped the killing spree in the Bataclan concert hall said the killers were unmasked and one was in his twenties. Hate sustained by hopelessness of economic prosperity and armed with guns in search of political validity and social acceptance is the stuff of misguided allegiance and patriotism.
The Islamic state is an established master in finding finance and recruiting people to go to battle. A French commentator said on Saturday that the country was a decade behind these groups when it came to understanding and defending itself. There will be protests and marches and repeated displays of outrage. Without clear thinking and the humility to accept wrongs committed by all, we are looking at a rinse and repeat performance. The victims will be ordinary people out to have a coffee. Vladimir Putin is no more innocent or guilty than George W Bush in this context with one exception â he knows his history and wants Russia to influence the geography in his region.