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Vladimir Putin’s plan – What Russia’s Middle East strategy is really about

Moscow seeks to reclaim influence as a major powerbroker

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(OilPrice) – A new balance of power is solidifying in Syria. Iran, Turkey and Russia have all played a role in the conflict there – jockeying for position and even agreeing in September to set up zones of control. But Russia in particular has deftly managed the game up to this point, and it is emerging from the Syrian civil war with a strong hand. Ultimately, Russia’s goal is to parlay its position in the Middle East into advantages in areas that matter more to Moscow. To some degree, it has achieved this, but it’s still unclear whether its strategy will be successful enough to score Russia an advantage in the area it cares about the most: Ukraine.

Russia intervened in Syria for two reasons: to gain enough clout in the region that the U.S. would offer some concessions in negotiations elsewhere in exchange for cooperation in Syria, and to show its public that Russia is still a strong power. Russia’s support for Bashar Assad was instrumental in preventing the regime’s demise. Now, the Islamic State is in retreat, and some version of the Syrian regime, led by Assad, will remain in power. Russia’s role in this outcome gives the Kremlin influence with the Assad regime. The regime’s biggest challenge now is eliminating what remains of the Sunni insurgency, including groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which took control of much of Idlib province from the Turkish proxy Ahrar al-Sham in July.

Over the past week, we’ve seen two seemingly anomalous events that are part of a strategy to eliminate the Sunni insurgency. First, King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited Moscow and signed multibillion-dollar energy deals with Russia that will involve both Russian investment in Saudi Arabia and Saudi investment in Russia. Then, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – a group that the Saudis have been accused of backing and that, as of a few months ago, was an enemy of one of Turkey’s proxy groups – reportedly escorted Turkish officers into Idlib as Turkish reconnaissance forces surveyed the territory in preparation for a greater deployment of forces. Both these events indicate that the Saudis may be willing to work with Russia in Syria by applying pressure on radical Sunni insurgent groups. In exchange, the Saudis will get some much-needed financial help in the form of investment deals. They will also get reassurance that Iranian influence in Syria will be limited. Turkey’s deployment in Idlib is one way of achieving this.

‘Putin is very important’ – Trump knows Russia holds the keys to a Syrian peace

Russia needed to isolate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in Idlib so that Turkey could establish control of the territory as part of the de-escalation agreement that Russia, Turkey and Iran reached in September. Idlib, which is close to the Turkish border as well as Aleppo and Latakia – two key provinces for the Syrian government – is not the only territory still held by rebels, but it is the last major rebel bastion. Russia is hoping that investment deals like the one it made last week will compel the Saudis to put more pressure on the group. The Saudi regime hasn’t directly funded Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but it has looked the other way as individual Saudis gave it financial support.

Russia is cooperating with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to gain ground in the region in the short term, even though its interests don’t align with these countries’ interests in the long term. Moscow is, therefore, establishing a balance that lets Russia play one country off the other so that no single power gains too much influence in the region.

Turkey has historically been a potential threat to Russia because Ankara controls the Bosporus, a narrow passage that, if blocked, would obstruct Moscow’s access to the Mediterranean. Iran is less dangerous to Moscow, but Russia still wants to limit Tehran’s influence in the Caucasus and prevent it from gaining too much control in Syria. Russia will thus work with both countries to make sure that they can counterbalance each other. An additional benefit of working with Turkey is that it can help isolate the remaining radical Sunni groups and prevent any interference from Saudi Arabia.

Unfazed by US oil sanctions, Russia’s GDP grows 1.7%

Russia’s strategy in the Middle East is to stay closer to all other players in the region than they are to one another. Russia, however, is pursuing this strategy not because it wants to be a major leader in the Middle East, but because it wants to accumulate as much influence as possible. This would allow it to offer to cooperate with the U.S. in the Middle East in exchange for concessions elsewhere. If the U.S. declines this offer, Russia will have at least made the situation more difficult for the U.S. and kept it bogged down and distracted. Russia’s main priority is Ukraine, and it perceives U.S. involvement there over the past several years as a threat. Moscow hopes that, as long as the U.S. is focused on the Middle East, it will be more willing to budge on the Ukraine issue.

Signs that a short-term alignment is emerging between Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia plays into Russia’s strategy. All three of these countries have an interest in cooperating to a degree in Syria. Turkey needs to expand into Syria to eliminate radical Sunni insurgent threats on its border, to check Iran’s power in Syria and to keep the Syrian Kurds weak in the north. Iran wants to further limit the threat of Sunni groups in Syria and consolidate its power in Syria and Iraq. And Saudi Arabia has a financial incentive to cooperate, as it needs all the money it can get. For Russia, however, its main focus is not in the Middle East but in Ukraine. It has so far seen success in one part of its Middle East strategy – gaining influence in an area the U.S. cares deeply about – but it remains to be seen whether this will translate into concessions on Ukraine.

By The CSS Blog Network

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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Putin and Erdogan Plan Syria-Idlib DMZ

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops occupying Idlib will take control over that land, and have responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet.

Eric Zuesse

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As I recommended in a post on September 10th, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan jointly announced on September 17th, “We’ve agreed to create a demilitarized zone between the government troops and militants before October 15. The zone will be 15-20km wide,” which compares to the Korean DMZ’s 4-km width. I had had in mind the Korean experience, but obviously Putin and Erdogan are much better-informed about the situation than I am, and they have chosen a DMZ that’s four to five times wider. In any case, the consequences of such a decision will be momentous, unless U.S. President Donald Trump is so determined for there to be World War III as to stop at nothing in order to force it to happen no matter what Russia does or doesn’t do.

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops who now are occupying Idlib province of Syria will take control over that land, and will thus have the responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet: Idlib. It contains the surviving Syrian Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters, including all of the ones throughout Syria who surrendered to the Syrian Army rather than be shot dead on the spot by Government forces.

For its part, the U.S. Government, backed by its allies and supported in this by high officials of the United Nations, had repeatedly threatened that if there occurs any chemical-weapons attack, or even any claimed chemical-weapons attack, inside Idlib, the U.S. and its allies will instantaneously blame the Syrian Government and bomb Syria, and will shoot down the planes of Syria and of Russia that oppose this bombing-campaign to conquer or ‘liberate’ Syria from its Government. The U.S. has announced its determination to protect what one high U.S. official — who is endorsing what Trump is doing there — “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.” He admits it, but he wants to protect them from being bombed by Syria and by Russia.

During recent weeks, the U.S. military has increasingly said that even if the jihadists they’ve been assisting to assemble the materials for a chemical-weapons attack fail to carry it out or to stage one, any attempt by Syrian and Russian forces to destroy the jihadists (which the U.S. side calls ‘rebels’) in Idlib will be met with overwhelming U.S.-and-allied firepower. That would spark WW III, because whichever side — Russia or U.S. — loses in the Syrian battlefield will nuclear-blitz-attack the other side so as to have the lesser damage from the nuclear war and thus (in military terms) ‘win’ WW III, because the blitz-attack will destroy many of the opposite side’s retaliatory weapons. In a nuclear war, the first side to attack will have a considerable advantage — reducing the number of weapons the other side can launch.

If, on the other hand, the DMZ-plan works, then Turkey’s forces will be responsible for vetting any of Idlib’s residents who try to leave, in order to prohibit jihadists and their supporters from leaving. Once that task (filtering out the non-dangerous inhabitants and retaining in Idlib only the jihadists and their supporters) is done, the entire world might be consulted on whether to exterminate the remaining residents or to set them free to return to the countries from which they came or to other countries. Presumably, no country would want those ‘refugees’. That would answer the question.

America’s Arab allies, the oil monarchies such as the Sauds who own Saudi Arabia and the Thanis who own Qatar, and which have funded Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, would then be put on a spot, because if they say “Exterminate them!” then their clergy who have provided the moral imprimatur upon those families’ ownership of those nations, will either be in rebellion or else will themselves become overthrown either by their own followers or else by their monarch — overthrown from below or from above.

Alternatively, after Turkey’s forces in Idlib will have allowed release from Idlib of all who will be allowed out, Syria’s and Russia’s bombers will simply go in and slaughter the then-surrounded jihadists and take upon themselves the responsibility for that, regardless of what the leaders of the U.S. and its allied governments might say.

On the night of September 17th in Syria, there were missile-attacks “from the sea” against several Syrian cities; and those attacks could have come from either Israel’s or America’s ships, or from other U.S.-allied ships. Russian Television bannered, “Russian plane disappears from radars during Israeli attack on Syria’s Latakia – MoD” and reported:

A Russian military Il-20 aircraft with 14 service members on board went off the radars during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
Air traffic controllers at the Khmeimim Air Base “lost contact” with the aircraft on Wednesday evening, during the attack of Israeli F-16 fighters on Latakia, said the MOD.Russian radars also registered the launch of missiles from a French frigate in the Mediterranean on the evening of September 17. …
The attack on Latakia came just hours after Russia and Turkey negotiated a partial demilitarization of the Idlib province

If the missiles were authorized by President Trump, then WW III has already begun in its pre-nuclear stage. However, if the attacks were launched by Israel’s Netanyahu, and/or by France’s Macron, without U.S. authorization, then the U.S. President might respond to them by siding against that aggressor(s) (and also against what he used to call “Radical Islamic Terrorists”), so as to prevent a nuclear war.

Late on September 17th, Al Masdar News bannered “NATO warships move towards Syrian coast” and reported “The NATO flotilla cruising off the Syrian coast reportedly consists of a Dutch frigate, the De Ruyter, a Canadian frigate, the Ville de Quebec, and a Greek cruiser, the Elli.” Al Qaeda and ISIS have influential protectors.

Ultimately, the decision will be U.S. President Trump’s as to whether he is willing to subject the planet to WW III and to its following nuclear winter and consequent die-off of agriculture and of everyone, in order to ‘win’ a nuclear war, such as America’s aristocracy has especially championed since the year 2006. The nuclear-victory concept is called “Nuclear Primacy” — the use of nuclear weapons so as to win a nuclear war against Russia, instead of to prevent a nuclear war. That concept’s predecessor, the “Mutually Assured Destruction” or “M.A.D.” meta-strategy, predominated even in the U.S. until 2006. Trump will have to decide whether the purpose of America’s nuclear-weapons stockpiles is to prevent WW III, or is to win WW III.

In Russia, the purpose has always been to have nuclear weapons in order to prevent WW III. But America’s President will be the person who will make the ultimate decision on this. And Idlib might be the spark. Netanyahu or Macron might be wanting to drag the U.S. into war even against Russia, but the final decision will be Trump’s.

The ultimate question is: How far will the U.S. go in order to continue the U.S. dollar as being the overwhelmingly dominant global currency?

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Russian MoD: Il-20 downed by Syrian missile after attacking Israel’s F-16s used it as cover

Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces.

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Russia has stated that it “reserves right to response” after claiming that Israel’s actions led to downing of Il-20 by Syrian S-200 missiles.

The Russian military accused their Israeli counterparts for causing the downing of a Russian Il-20 plane by the Syrian air defense forces, which were responding to an Israeli air raid on Latakia.

Via RT


The Russian military say the Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events, which led to the shooting down of a Russian Il-20 plane by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

On Monday evening four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean, a statement by the Russian defense ministry said on Tuesday. The Israeli warplanes came at a small altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region”, it said.

The military said the French Navy’s frigate “Auvergne” as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area of the Israeli operation.

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile,” the statement said.

The Russian ministry stressed that the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, which didn’t stop them from “the provocation”. Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,” the statement said.

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