First of all, I would like to congratulate Ambassador S. Korsunsky, who was appointed to head the Diplomatic Academy several days ago, and wish him every success in reforming such an important institution in the system of the diplomatic service of Ukraine.
Today, we have decided to discuss the Middle East issues and analyze the role of Russia in creating problems in the region.
What Russia has done recently in the Middle East, in particular in Syria, is a threat to the entire region. On the other hand, this policy is not formed by accident and is a manifestation of geopolitical imperial dreams of Russia, and thus becomes a global threat.
Certainly, this topic also has an internal political dimension, but we should touch it a little later.
So, we have two dimensions: foreign policy and internal policy, both of which will have very serious consequences for Russia if it carries on with its aggressive policy in the region.
While talking about the foreign policy aspect, then I am most concerned about the position of the West. Why? For it was the previous administration of the United States who allowed Russia to become an active player in Syria, and the present one would not dare to take the responsibility for acting decisively. I believe that it was the uncertainty of the Obama administration that caused severe consequences for the region and gave Russia the opportunity to implement its line, among other things, by destabilizing Europe, in particular, by stimulating the refugee problem.
At the same time, Mr.Assad remains with chemical weapons, handing it over formally to Russia. Is it possible to be so naive?
I am equally concerned about the current position of some Western leaders, including some Americans, who, as a mantra, repeat the thesis that the West needs Russia to fight against terrorism.
Major General Ahmed Khalid Birry, Chief of the General Staff of the Free Syrian Army, said that the Free Syrian Army intercepted the talks of Russians with Islamic terrorists. Mr.Birry said: "It is evident for us that the" Islamic State "(IS) is a partner of the Bashar Assad regime and acts in sync with it. Recent developments indicate that Asad regime and Russia are buying oil in the IS. Talks between the IS combatants and the Russian commanders guiding their attacks have been recently intercepted". "Russia cooperates both with the regime and with the IS. In other words, Russia does not set itself the goal of combating terrorism "(ru.haberler.com 16.12.2015)
Unfortunately, the West still cannot get rid of the illusions as for the true goals of Russian foreign policy.
I am disturbed by feeble reaction of the civilized world or absence of the reaction at all to reports on the use of cluster munitions by Russia during bombings in Syria prohibited by international conventions.
The Conflict Intelligence Team carrying out investigation in connection with the Russian military operation in Syria found that RT TV channel showed footage from the Khmeimim Airbase in Syria, in which one of the Russian combat aircraft was armed with cassette bombs.
And where are the claims to international courts?
I am surprised by the reaction, or rather, its absence, from the part of international organizations dealing with issues of security and human rights, with regard to the crimes of Russia in this war. Focusing on humanitarian aspects only means burying your head in the sand.
It is clear that assisting Mr.Assad is the most trivial goal of Russia in the Middle East. The main are others: returning the status of those with whom the West would speak; enhancing its military presence in the region; forming a coalition of those Arab countries that would oppose the allies of the United States; destabilizing Europe with new tide of refugees.
Unfortunately, we do not see any systemic reaction of the West on these challenges.
On the other hand, being carried away by foreign policy adventures in the Middle East, the Kremlin seems to forget about the domestic political aspect. In particular, it reads about the Muslim factor in Russia itself.
Here is what Oleg Panfilov, Georgian professor with a true Georgian name (professor of the Iliya National University, Georgia), wrote:
"According to various sources, from 12 to 25 percent of the population in Russia call themselves Muslims .... Russian authorities do not know how to communicate with Muslim communities – except those selected from the high-ranking functionary lists. The state propaganda raises the level of Islamophobia higher and higher - the rejection of people who go to prayer causes indignation and hatred. The Kremlin does not want to see that rejection in the society grows into confrontation. The situation may get worse, at the mental level so far - xenophobia contributes to this. "
O. Panfilov makes the following conclusion:
Moscow has "only two ways: either to find understanding with Muslims or to lose the opportunity to influence them." http://nv.ua/ukr/opinion/panfilov/antimusulmanska-roija-1774924.html
Therefore, it would be interesting to hear the answer to the question of whether Moscow can find understanding with Muslims both inside the country and abroad, by pursuing such a policy in the Middle East?
And I would like to conclude with the opinion expressed by the former Foreign Minister of Germany Mr. Joschka Fisher in the article The Next War:
"After the Islamic State's demise, the next chapter in the history of the Middle East will be determined by open, direct confrontation between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for regional predominance. So far, this long-smoldering conflict has been pursued under cover and mostly by proxies. The two global powers active in the region have already clearly positioned themselves in this conflict, with the US siding with Saudi Arabia and Russia with Iran. (I wonder why J. Fischer calls Russia a global power – V.O.)
The current "war on terror" will increasingly be replaced by this hegemonic conflict. And with Saudi Arabia and four Sunni allies imposing isolation on Qatar, in part owing to the Qataris' close relations with Iran, this conflict has reached its first potential tipping point at the very center of the region, the Persian Gulf. "
J.Fisher draws a conclusion that the history of the Middle East promises to become anything but only not peaceful." IPG Journal, 07/25/2017
The Middle East is a region lying very close to Ukraine and can significantly affect our security. Therefore, the question of what needs to be done to make the history of the region peaceful and how to restrain Russia from deliberately undermining it, is not academic for Ukraine.
I hope that we shall be able to hear the answer to it during our discussion as well.
* Information about the Author:
Dr.Volodymyr Ogrysko – Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine (2007 - 2009), CEO, Center for Russian Studies.
The article is based on the presentation at the International Conference «Middle East vector in the Russian Foreign Policy: goals and consequences».