Don’t Forget the Tsar’s Number

Don’t Forget the Tsar’s Number

Monday, 27 August, 2018 - 08:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl has the right to get married. Obviously, the country’s chancellor is present and surrounded by his senior aides. She has the right to determine with her groom the list of Austrian and foreign guests. But she went far when she invited a man who looks like James Bond, but who’s more famous and exciting.

When it comes to diplomacy, timing has a decisive impact. Just as in hunting. You must shoot at the right moment, otherwise, your arrow will miss the target. Thus, Vladimir Putin chose to appear at the Austrian wedding on his way to Berlin to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A master in the image industry and the distribution of messages, he arrived carrying a bouquet of flowers. He did not forget to take with him a group of Cossacks to cheer up the guests with Russian folklore. The invitees were soon stunned. The Tsar in the middle of the circle surrounds the bride with his hands and dances with her, contemplating her with a studied innocent and tender look. At the end, he bowed with reservation to his dance partner, who took more time bending. He talked with some of the attendees and left.

Soon, photos of the dance spread like wildfire. Voices rose from parties and personalities. Does the foreign minister have the right to dance with the man who annexed the Crimea, destabilized Ukraine, reversed the path of war in Syria, and sent merciless gifts to “rebel agents” on European soil?

Can Austria assume the presidency of the European Union when its foreign minister bends in front of the "enemy of the Union"? What about the neutrality that characterized the Vienna policy despite its belonging to the European Union?

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had to give an explanation. “Our position in Europe did not change because of a wedding. Our foreign policy towards Russia is clear. We helped shape and are committed to all the European Union’s decisions.”

Putin also intervened to say that the visit was “very private”, without forgetting to praise Austria’s role in the dialogue. The bride considered that she did not over-bend and that she learned this move during her dance course, in response to the opposition Socialist Party’s statement that the scene was “provocative and embarrassing.”

Others defended the bride, saying that she was not extremist, despite the fact that she was chosen by the right-wing “Freedom Party”, which has ties with Putin’s “United Russia”.

The Europeans were confused by seeing Putin dancing at the Austrian party. They forgot that Putin had performed on the Syrian arena a military and diplomatic dance that changed the equations and balances of power and fates. In Syria and its vicinities, the Tsar’s telephone number became a guarantee, a key and a mandatory crossing.

The Syrian Regime cannot forget the Tsar’s number, while his troops are based on its territory. This number must be used to seek assistance in the face of any US or Western draft resolution on Syria at the Security Council. It is also necessary to convince Israel to limit its air and missile attacks on the military targets of Iran and its allies. The number is also essential to operate in the “de-escalation zones” and to draw Turkey into the Russian program. The Russian role is an urgent need in any attempt by the regime to bring back part of the Syrians who fled to neighboring countries.

Turkey does not need anyone to remind it of the Tsar’s number. It recorded it and saved it by heart and walked the path of Astana. It has asked for Russian missiles, overlooking the fact that they were Atlantic. It looked at Syrian developments with Russia’s eyes, in exchange for a Kremlin pass to abort the Kurdish dream of “self-administration.” The Kurds themselves did not find but the Russian number to control the Turkish uprising against them, and later restrain the regime’s desire to discipline them.

Iran cannot ignore the Tsar’s number. It needs it at the Security Council, against US sanctions, and in the remnants of the nuclear deal. It also needs it for the military presence in Syria. It is true that the Russian role in Syria necessarily reduces some of the Iranian role, but it is also true that Russia needs the Iranian card in any major compromise with America.

Jordan first realized the importance of the Tsar’s number. Communication is necessary especially when it comes to the situation in southern Syria. It is also necessary for the issue of the return of Syrian refugees and the security of the Syrian future as a whole. Jordan also wants to remove pro-Iranian militias from its borders and Moscow is more capable of helping in this matter.

Lebanon does not need anyone to remind it of the value of the Russian number. Saad al-Hariri recognizes the importance of Moscow in reducing Syrian pressure for full normalization. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil discussed with Lavrov the Orientalist concerns, as if urging Russia to act as a guarantor of coexistence and minorities. Walid Jumblat only found the Russian number to resort to when he was worried about the Syrian Druze, who were subjected to a massacre by ISIS.

One can say that Benjamin Netanyahu has already preceded many in using the Russian number. A hotline links him to Putin. He visited Moscow more than he visited Washington. The Kremlin master gave him the right to attack the military structure of Iran and its allies on Syrian soil. Putin’s commitment to Israel’s security was evident in reviving the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel and the participation of Russian soldiers in ensuring respect for it.

What Putin did in the Middle East is more important and dangerous than his Austrian dance. In the Middle East, don’t forget the Tsar’s number, as you may need it today, or maybe tomorrow.

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