Do you realize what you have done? – Putin gives the war party a bootin’
First, the President’s delegation at the United Nations General Assembly exited as Vladimir Putin began his speech. Then, at the rear of the room a handful of Ukrainian activists held a tattered national flag.
Nobody seemed to pay them the slightest attention. One man picked his nose. So did a woman nearby. Other delegates fixed their gaze on the real action below. Eventually, two officials arrived and ejected the group.
No matter how Kiev tries to spin the incident, it was a humiliation. Pitiful in the extreme. Barack Obama had earlier attempted to gently draw a line under the miserable Ukrainian situation which has dogged East-West relations for almost two years now. Poroshenko’s sad stooped walk betrayed the fact that he knew it. The attempts to rage against the dying of the light only made the spectacle more lousy.
America’s policy in Ukraine has failed. Its attempt to land “the big prize” and push NATO to Russia’s underbelly has been in vain. While the two Christian superpowers – Moscow and Washington – were tearing themselves apart over a semi-failed state, the real enemy was running amok in the Middle East. ISIS thrived in a vacuum while the big boys were distracted and at each other’s throats.
As ever in Russia/US relations, the key is Germany. Berlin is buckling under the weight of a migrant crisis which threatens the entire European Union project. This summer, the result of America’s meddling in the Arab world came to Europe. A refugee crisis of the kind not seen since 1945. As a result, the continent’s barely concealed tensions have resurfaced. A new iron curtain has descended over Europe. This time based on different attitudes to asylum seekers to the left and right of Vienna.
Europe demands that something be done about ISIS. Syria, which was once seen as a geopolitical game, has become an existential crisis for the EU. Putin knows this, Barack Obama knows this and Angela Merkel is tearing her hair out hoping they can both dig her out of a massive hole.
For those of us who desire a rapprochement between Russia and the West yesterday was a momentous day. The two-year hiatus in Putin-Obama summits had followed a few very uncomfortable encounters involving the two men. Meanwhile, relations between Moscow and America’s client states in Europe had atrophied considerably.
In New York, the two Presidents played a different game. Both delivered jabs at the other in their keynote speeches, but neither reached for a right hook. Obama and Putin were consistent on long-held positions but carefully avoided creating any new tensions. Then they met, face to face. A chinwag supposed to last 50 minutes, extended to 94. There is now genuine hope that Russia and America can co-operate to some degree in restoring order to the Middle East. In Putin’s post meeting press briefing, Ukraine essentially didn’t exist.
Consistency in a mad world
Putin’s speech corresponded to his enduring principles, but offered little new. As ever, the President reiterated concerns over the spread of US military power in Europe, “why did NATO expand if the Warsaw Pact no longer existed, if the Soviet Union was gone?” He also pointed out that Libya was destroyed thanks to the manipulation of the UN Security Council by NATO. “Do you realize now what you have done?” Putin asked. “I’m afraid the question will hang in the air, because policies based on self-confidence and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned.”
Indirectly warning against the hegemonic influence of the US, Putin claimed that Washington abused its dominant post-Cold War status, ignoring the UN. “The attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the United Nations – are extremely dangerous,” he commented. Warming to his theme, the President lashed out at the imposition of a “false choice” between east and west on former Soviet states by Western interests.
A Russian domestic TV panelist had suggested that Obama’s earlier speech “was like being lectured: about how to live, how the US is better than everyone else.” Putin stayed away from directly confrontational attacks on America. Instead, he retreated to his long-standing opinion that Washington abused its position at the “top of pyramid” that emerged in the 90’s.
Rather than rake over tensions in the former Soviet Union, he decided to stir the coarse sands of ennui in international Middle East policy. More-or-less blaming Washington for the rise of ISIS, Putin insisted that “only President Assad’s forces are truly fighting terrorism and extremism in Syria.” The President then suggested a broad international coalition against terrorism, “similar to the anti-Hitler coalition” of the past. Putin implored Muslim religious leaders to show “guidance” to stop the spread of terrorism associated with the faith.
United we stand?
Later, in his press conference following the Obama talks, Putin ruled out the notion of Russian soldiers engaging in ground operations in Syria. He insisted that instead, Moscow will try to support Kurds & the Syrian army against ISIS. Putin further revealed that he had discussed the idea of airstrikes with Obama. However, the largest sign of the new reality was when he stated that Russia was “ready to restore relations with America to the normal scale.” Adding that, “it wasn’t our choice to limit them.”
Compromise is not a dirty word. It’s now time to shout it more loudly. Europe is creaking under migration and fears that unless Ukraine stabilizes, a new wave could eventually come from that troubled state. Germany and France, in particular, are furiously searching for a way to “solve” the Middle East nightmare. Meanwhile, even the previously hard-line British are softening their stance on cooperation with Russia.
Iran proved that when Russia and the West work together, great progress can be made. When they compete for influence, as in Ukraine, disaster is never far away. Vladimir Putin has outlined a roadmap to potentially resolve the Syria crisis. The West despises Assad. Nevertheless, his government is far more palatable than ISIS or the total collapse of the Syrian state.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.