Sep 15 2013

The Russians are coming

Published by at 12:48 pm under Articles



Following appeared in Jordan Times and Huffington Post.

By Daoud Kuttab

Shortly after the vote in the British parliament to oppose a strike on Syria, an American newspaper reported the decision of the House of Commons in an unusual way. In a spoof to the independence cry, the Daily News ran a front-page headline repeating twice the phrase: “The British are not coming.”

While it has become clear that the British are not coming to America’s aid in the military theatre, the global political movement is witnessing the arrival of an old/new player.

Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, appear to have made a grand entry into the international political scene. The handling of the Syrian file, the G-20 conference and the Russian-US relations all added up to a shrewd and brilliant performance. Russia has shown it respects its allies, uses all its assets and privileges and knows how to translate its powers into accomplishments.

The Russian Federation, which was left from the old Soviet Union, appeared to be a weak player in the international political landscape and a weak partner compared to giants such as the US, Germany, France or China.

In fact, Russia was not officially admitted to the group of major industrial countries. It was allowed to attend as an observer in the G-7 meeting, which later was called G7+1, and finally became a full member of the newly declared G-8 group.

Russia is, of course, not new to international and Middle Eastern politics. But while the Russian steadfastness brought it many high marks in Arab circles, many are warning against get carried away by the newfound strength of the Russians in international circles.

2013 is not the 1970s or 80s, and we are not going to see a new bipolar world. Russia may have done very well in handling the Syrian file (and US President Barack Obama handled it badly), but this is not to say that Russians will be flexing their muscles too much in world politics, although they are certain to make a splash next time they meet US and other world leaders.

The Syrian crisis, which is still far from being solved, has forced all international parties to be cognizant of a number of important issues that were ignored during the past decade of total US domination.

Overreaching is one matter the international community is clearly not comfortable with, even (and in fact specifically) when it comes from a superpower like the US.

Trying to carry out aggressive military acts without a mandate from the UN or any other relevant international body is clearly not tolerated in today’s world.

Flexing military muscles for dubious reasons such as “America’s credibility” or to “punish” a particular country does not impress anymore. Countries need to come up with a more credible justification before committing to carrying out acts of aggression against any country, no matter how abhorrent that country and its leadership might be.

Taking the UN and its Security Council for granted has also been put to the test. When American officials talk about Russia or China taking the “Syrian people hostage” by threatening to use the veto rings hollow when the international voting record of the five members is checked out.

While the Russian Federation vetoed only six resolutions since 1991, the Americans used their veto power 79 times (40 of those in regard to Middle East issues, in favour of Israel).

The relative success of the Russian Federation, however, should not be exaggerated. In military, political and more importantly financial terms, Moscow is dwarfed by the US and its Western allies.

The Russians’ steadfastness and political creativity raised their country’s profile in the world generally and in the Middle East specifically. After an embarrassing loss in Libya, the Russians bounced back and forced the US to rethink its current world domination.

If the Syrian crisis has taught the world anything, it is that international affairs are a team sport that requires high performance and unity of purpose in order to produce the desired results.

America and Russia, as well as other major countries, must realise their own size and power, and act in unison, rather than in competition, when trying to solve world problems, which are aplenty.

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