By Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
A dramatic worsening of the conflict in the Middle East, in the immediate future, with unpredictable international consequences, should be considered one of the most likely scenarios, according to several international observers, although of course we should always avoid certainties in such situations.
If it is confirmed that the fall of the Russian aircraft over Sinai was caused by a terrorist operation, Moscow’s reaction is likely to be extremely tough.
For Kremlin it is vital to show that no one can hit Russia without suffering devastating retaliation.
The finding in Washington dead of a man who played a key role in the Russian communication effort internationally and was close to the Russian President himself, may be a coincidence, but it nonetheless makes heavier an already tense international climate. An atmosphere also burdened by the dispatch of American F-15 planes equipped with nuclear weapons to the Turkish base of Incirlik. Supposedly, everybody goes there to bomb Islamists. Bbut these airplanes are better for dogfights, rather than bombing.
President Obama also approved the dispatch of fifty men of the special forces to Syria. They are few, but the war in Vietnam began with few men too. At least, the presence of US troops on Syrian soil demonstrates Washington’s determination not to allow the Assad government, under Russian protection, imposing its control over the entire Syrian territory. Meanwhile some Israeli analysts bring again to the surface the scenarios for a split of Syria into three parts.
In turn, the Russians announced (something which can be seen as a warning) that they have already transferred to Syria some of their best anti-aircraft systems. As a minimum, their installation prohibits de facto the hitherto existing possibility of free action of American and Israeli aviation over Syria, if it is not “blinding” NATO air-control systems. The firing of missiles from Caspian, which Russian they claim that they are better than American Cruz missiles, also sent a “signal”, that any attempt of a Russian “exclusion” from the eastern Mediterranean, exploiting geographical factors, is of a limited use. Russian proved also again their military-technological capacities.
Behind the ‘Islamic State’
The issue has broader dimensions, because a series of publications and revelations from officials refer to the close links and support of “Islamic State” from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. For the Russians, diplomatic sources say, there is no serious doubt about relations between IS and western services, as for the real attitude and role of Israel raises at least some serious questions, say the same sources.
Polyvolo & soldier in Syrian mountains 1a LLLL Photo TASS
Obviously, it is hardly credible that a single “chieftain” of the “Islamic State” took the decision to attack a Russian plane with over 200 passengers on board and told no one. The question is who knew what, who possibly made the decision, or rather who permitted such an operation to take place. On the response to be given by the Kremlin and Washington on this question, too much will depend on international relations in the near future.
Erdogan loses his temper and the West its mind
The President of Turkey, Tayip Erdogan, made the (unprecedented in the diplomatic annals) statement that he can’t condemn the shooting down of Russian aircraft, if it was a shooting down, since the Russians bomb Muslims in Syria too.
The Erdogan statement reveals a great loss of composure and complete, arrogant misconception of reality and correlation of forces. At the very least, it will burden significantly the Russian-Turkish relations. It is also very typical for the large lack of understanding of Russia, and the underlying strength of Russian national feeling, that characterises now most Western politicians. These politicians were formed in the period immediately after the sudden collapse of the USSR, the causes of which misinterpreted in the West as a sole product of weakness.
In fact, the deep crisis or any “weakness” that the USSR was facing, was unable by itself to lead to the overthrow of the regime, because otherwise the Cuban regime would not survive even a few months. Behind the “collapse-suicide” of the USSR there was an element of ‘accession’ of the Soviet elite, but also of a significant part of soviet public opinion in the world of “Western capitalistic values”. But what followed was that the Russian economy, state and society were destroyed in the 1990’s following, as closely as possible, the recipes of the IMF. NATO tends to come as near as possible to Moscow itself and the Russian border is today about where it was in the time of Ivan the Terrible. It makes sense that, some people in Russia, drew after all some conclusions from such an experience. This is not strange, what is really strange is rather that it took them so much time to draw those conclusions!
The current international situation and the lack of understanding of Russia by the West poses risks of a very big international crisis between the two nuclear superpowers, because in these days there are no codes and understanding, as they were developed after the conference of Yalta and after the crisis of the missiles in Cuba. There are also, in contrast to what was happening throughout the Cold War period, very limited forces in both western establishment and western societies, which could somehow offset the existence of strong currents, such as “Neo-conservatives”, who seem willing to take to “war” against Russia and China, to the very end, risking even the Apocalypse!
Obama and neoconservatives
Only President Obama (who was elected as a reaction to the extremist neoconservative Iraq policy) seems to have perhaps realized where the hawks lead him. These hawks that are everywhere in the American establishment itself, also inside the government and they are probably stronger than the American President himself (exemplified by the Deputy Secretary Nuland who was handing out sandwiches to the demonstrators in Maidan Square in Kiev and was proposing to “fuck the EU”). The President sometimes looks like he is making a kind of “guerrilla” war inside the “deep” American state. Not without significance since it managed, at least so far, to prevent military intervention in Syria and war against Iran.
It is not the first time this happens. From the minutes of the meeting on the crisis of missiles in Cuba, we know that the world war was averted only because there was President Kennedy and his brother. Both were distinguished for their self-confidence, their independence of opinion and their faith in America. Both were assassinated at a later stage.
Many people in the West are hoping that the fall of the Russian aircraft, attributed to a terrorist operation, will lead to a “revolt” of Russian public opinion against Putin’s policy in the Middle East. It is not at all certain. What is instead certain is that if the fall is due to terrorism, it will confirm the assessment of the Kremlin that Russia faces a dangerous encirclement by forces seeking, in the long term, either to subjugate it or to crush it. And it will lead to a hardening, no to a softening of the Russian policy.
The return of Russia (or how chaos became a boomerang)
The wars in Georgia and Ukraine were actually forced defensive moves of the Kremlin in the zone of its most vital interests, the former USSR.
Russian intervention in Syria raises in practice a serious obstacle to any intentions of a continuation of the Middle East wars with an attack against Iran. With this intervention, the Kremlin crossed its own Rubicon. By the very logic of things, and not by the deepest desire of the Russian elite, it is now pushed to take upon itself a part of the global role played by the USSR.
The strategy of chaos had thus a very unexpected result, as Moscow “saw light and entered” in a huge Shiite strategic area of global importance, that extends from the Mediterranean coast opposite Cyprus to the border of Pakistan, including Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran!
And unlike even the leaderships of Stalin or Brezhnev, the inherent conservatism of whom made in fact quite predictable their behavior, despite their “revolutionary” rhetoric and ideology, we are dealing here with a new, under formation Russian leadership and Russian society, open to evolution in different directions. (A writer said about Cromwell’s soldiers, “if they knew where they would arrive, they would not make a single step!”).
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos has worked as an assistant on East-West relations and arms control in the office of Greek PM Andreas Papandreou from 1985 to 1988. From 1989 to 1999 he has been the director of the Athens News Agency office in Moscow
This article was published by ANA-MPA, on November 9th, 2015
Translated from Greek into English by George Moustakis