Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Russian Gambit

As we soon enter the fall season, the talk of a strike, a conflict, even a war against Iran grows louder and louder.

While Israel is extremely worried and increases its military readiness and the United States timidly drag their feet into uncertainty, Iran keeps a steady course and presses on the accelerator.

In the past weeks stories have surfaced that Israel could launch a preemptive strike in September or October, ahead of the US election. This time, it might be for real, as the increase in intensity of the covert operations against Iranian nuclear interests in the past year might indicate.

It is clear now that the US and the EU are not capable of deescalating the tensions, and the UN Security Council resolutions are not diminishing Iranian resolve. Further attempts on their behalf at this point would likely be futile.

What can the world do to deescalate the conflict?

In my opinion there is one but option left: to call on Russia. Give Putin, Medvedev and Lavrov all the tools, the leverage, the latitude and the trust that is necessary to try and turn down the dial through the political back channels, for the sake of avoiding another bloody conflict in the Middle East.

Russia is a historical behemoth that has known all the plagues. Russians are no strangers to the ugliness of war, the fear of terrorism and political instability. It is a nation in which might is right, for better or for worse, but that can be an effective game changer if treated with respect and truly empowered to make a difference.

While some could argue that Russia’s efforts towards Iran have been counterproductive in the past, insisting with their diplomatic authorities that the last thing the world’s largest nation needs is a war over nuclear matters on its southern front, not too far from the Caucasus, could be a simple yet effective incentive.

Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, his will to assert Russia’s presence on the international stage and to restore the nation’s glory might worry some; however the West playing its cards right with Russia, with whom it shares a considerable culture, could help steer the country into becoming a proud yet truly responsible international actor, while bolstering their pride and help the West achieve is foreign policy goals.

It is time to give Russia an opportunity to shine, for all our sakes, before we venture past the point of no return. It is time to let Moscow lead one last diplomatic ballet, in order to avoid a belligerent mosh pit.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Great Game

The hot-zones today. How many G20 countries can you count in their vicinity?

The current state of relations between the American and Russian governments will no doubt remind some of the Cold War. Sharp tongues, covert operations, proxy wars, threats of using force – it’s all there, albeit, in a much less intense fashion. It is also a complete waste of time.

Last June, when it hosted the G20 summit in Los Cabos, the Mexican government did not convene a follow-up meeting of the G20 Foreign Ministers, even though it had been tentatively put forward after their first informal gathering last February. It is unfortunate because it could have been used to discuss frankly, openly and face to face the current challenges to international security that are posed by North Korea, Iran and most recently, Syria.

While hoping for some kind of major agreement on upcoming steps in all three scenarios might have been far-fetched, the world could have used some sense of unity in the broadest sense from the G20 nations’ chief diplomats. Instead, we are privy to yet another “Great Game” between the US-Russia and China troika, played out in diplomatic circles, through covert operations, weapons shipments and UN Security Council vetoes, while our world becomes increasingly dangerous.

Syria is the last remaining “active” fire of the Arab Spring and is quickly catching up to Libya in terms of bloodbath. However, because of the country’s strategic location – at the very heart of the least stable region of the globe – the conflict has been at the very centre of a tug o’ war between the US and Western nations and the Russia/China strategic alliance.

Certainly, Bashar Al-Assad bears most of the blame for the extreme escalation of the conflict. But Russia and China, fearing a repeat of the “over-interpretation” of UNSC resolution 1970 on Libya have consistently vetoed any bold proposal against Syria. Russians went as far as attempting to deliver Mi25 attack helicopters and missiles to Al-Assad’s regime earlier this summer, and are likely politically flexing their muscles by deploying amphibious assault ships and hundreds of marines in their naval base at Tartus shortly.

On the other hand, news broke this past week that the US President Barack Obama authorized clandestine support to the rebels by the CIA through humanitarian, logistical, communications and financial help which likely explains the growing progress they have made in the recent weeks. Official sources claim no arms are being sent by the US; this may or may not be true. And of course, financial help begs the question: what is stopping the recipients of US funds from acquiring weapons with that money? What is truly worrying about the Syrian rebels is the growing legions of foreign fighters affiliated to Al-Qaeda joining their side. In the advent of a rebel victory, what will happen to them? Could US help be in fact diverted to help a new generation of Al-Qaeda terrorists?

While East and West throw an encore of the Cold War, Iran coldly calculates its next move with its nuclear program, sending its Basij and financing Hezbollah to support the fledging Al-Assad. When Damascus finally falls, no real distraction will remain in the Middle East, and all eyes will look to Teheran. What some call the “Syrian Uprising” is but a prelude to the next chapter: a confrontation with Iran.