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Is Putin the Solution… or the Problem?

Is Putin the Solution… or the Problem?

Monday, 17 February, 2020 - 09:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Years ago, the Munich Security Conference (MSC) turned into an indicator of the level of international concern. Its platforms and side talks witness contradictory positions, open conflicts, implicit and explicit fears about ascending and declining roles in the absence of a serious and effective mechanism to control confrontations and rifts.


The MSC’s 56th session, which concluded on Sunday, was undoubtedly the most important since the launch of the conference in 1963.


Speeches, discussions, and sideline talks have reflected the amount of concern haunting many participants. Many are convinced that the specter of a new form of Cold War is no longer just pessimistic speculation.


Moreover, the continent, in which the conference is being held, looks like a frightened old ship sailing in the waves of the American “reclusion” and the Russian “aggressiveness”, without a unified response from the sailors. This is without forgetting that Britain resigned from the European Union and that the German chancellor is preparing for retirement, leaving the Old Continent in the custody of the master of Elysée, who did not hesitate to say that his patience is running out of the German and European slowdown.


Europe is worried about its role, stability, and model. NATO’s European wing is no longer fully confident of its ability to take shelter under the US umbrella in difficult times.


The disagreement between the two shores of the Atlantic is not only the result of presidential moods. Rather, it has turned into divergence in the vocabulary and interests and the burden of the alliances.


It is obvious that Donald Trump’s America does not maintain the role of the guardian of the international system. Despite Pompeo’s reassurances about the power of the West, the Europeans seem unconvinced that the Atlantic spirit had not collapsed.


The Munich Conference revealed that the world’s decision-makers are infected with the viruses of anxiety and doubt, and haunted with interferences and coups that often take place through proxies.


Many Europeans believe that the Russian leader is at the forefront of those responsible for the deteriorating conditions in the adult’s club, for many reasons. In fact, Vladimir Putin has proved to be carrying a great revenge project against the West, which dismantled the Soviet Union and locked it in museums. In addition, he annexed Crimea, destabilized Ukraine and revived the tradition of punishing spies, even if they tried to defend themselves in this European country or that.


Moreover, he insisted on punishing the colored revolutions, and flexing his muscles in an area like the Middle East, through military intervention in Syria and later in Libya.


European rulers feel that their predecessors have failed to understand Putin, who emerged in the Russian and international scenes at the beginning of this century.


They thought that the man would be busy preventing the disintegration of the Russian Federation itself, and then would launch a modernization project, keeping space with European countries.


These people misunderstood the mysterious man, who was able to show feelings of friendliness, while concealing his true intentions, pending the opportunity to strike a painful blow.


At the Munich conference, Putin was physically absent. But the words of Emmanuel Macron were the greatest evidence of the presence of his shadow. The man was represented by his Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, who has been living for many years in the Stalinist building of the Russian Foreign Ministry.


Macron, who had long supported dialogue with Putin, talked about Russia’s aggression, its adherence to a policy of destabilization, and its use of communication technology to interfere in elections in other countries’ soil and to move through proxies.


Putin’s shadow, strongly present in Munich, was also lingering over the rapid developments in and around Syria’s Idlib.


The rift between Ankara and Moscow escalated to an unprecedented level, while Turkey sent troops into Syrian territory.


Recep Tayyip Erdogan made explicit accusations against Russia of abandoning its obligations under the Sochi Agreements and the Astana process. Moscow responded by accusing the Turkish president of not fulfilling his pledges and by sending weapons into Syria, part of which ended up in the hands of the terrorist Al-Nusra Front.


The region witnessed for the first time bloody encounters between the Syrian and Turkish armies, and Erdogan hinted at targeting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.


Shortly after the Russian military intervention in Syria, many parties believed that Putin, who had saved the regime, would push it to accept a certain political process, which would lead to a kind of involvement of the moderate opposition in drafting a new constitution, especially after the decline in the demand to remove Assad from the balance of power.


There are those who believed that Putin would seek to gradually curb Iranian influence in Syria, to convince the people of the region and the major countries that Russia’s Syria is the alternative to Iranian Syria.


Once again, Putin’s policy seemed complicated and mysterious. It was not clear whether he was willing to curb the Iranian role or whether he was able to do so.


On the other hand, he did not try to prevent Israel from launching raids on Iranian military bases in Syria, and he established with Benjamin Netanyahu, a long-term and intensive consultative relationship.


At the same time, he was interested in deepening the distance between Turkey and the West, introducing Russian missiles to the arsenal of this Atlantic country, while giving it a green light to intervene militarily on Syrian soil and to dismantle the Kurdish rope.


Then, it became clear that Turkey wanted more than that, and that Russia had undeclared intentions. Lavrov was able to summarize this fact, when he said in Munich: “Russia, Turkey, and Iran don’t have unified goals in Syria.”


In parallel, Putin’s shadow appeared in Libya, and talks emerged about “Russian mercenaries” and Syrian guerillas classified as “friends of Russia”, who are opposed to Syrians brought by Erdogan, and who are considered as Turkey’s friends.


From Munich to Idlib to Libya, Putin’s shadow remained present. But those who thought that Putin was the solution, today believe that he is the problem, due to his calculations that keep surprising local, regional, and international players.


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