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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

US Hands Over Syria to Russia!

What an irony! There was a time, when every country, even including those countries that benefited by huge aid from the US, used to resent the omnipresence of America and today nations are complaining about its withdrawal from the world affairs ridden by its singular pursuit of: ‘America first’. The more the President pulls out his country from its external obligations, the more is the discomfiture of other nations at the damage being inflicted by such withdrawals. The latest example is: whirlwind exit of American forces from Syria exposing Kurds in Syria to Turkish forces. It is viewed as a betrayal of the US allies and the Syrian Kurds who have been in a way ring-fencing the Isis. It even raised questions over the trustworthiness of America.

Paradoxically, this move has aided three of the American adversaries: Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, his closest ally, Iran, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Owing to the subsequent Turkish raids on Syrian cities, the Kurdish militants were forced to strike an alliance with the Russian-backed Syrian army. This has in turn helped the Syrian forces and its President to reclaim control over its large territory. With this sudden change, Russia’s gambit in the Middle East since its military intervention in 2015 has enabled it to consolidate its regional influence.

As this change is happening in Syria, Russian President was in Saudi Arabia courting the America’s most important ally in the Arab world and telling the crown Prince that “all our cooperation, Your highness, aimed at strengthening peace and security in the region...” Russia, despite being on the opposing side to Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi in Syria, could now get closer to Abu Dhabi, for “Russia is seen as the best way to counter Iranian influence in Syria and to help stabilize the situation.” The American withdrawal has thus certainly bolstered Russia’s influence in the region.

Nevertheless, this sudden emergence of Russia’s role as the pre-eminent powerbroker in the Syrian conflict also poses a challenge at Russia: it has to now work out an arrangement among Turkey, the Kurds, and Syria to head off a military clash. It is yet not certain about Russia halting the Turkish advance, which means, there is a risk of Russian forces that are fighting alongside Syria’s forces being drawn into a conflict against Turkey, directly or indirectly. Any escalation on these lines is sure to drag Russia deeper into the conflict. In the light of this sudden redrawing of alliances, it is interesting to watch how Putin, who is anxious to bring a political settlement to the conflict, manoeuvre through the maze of competing interests of the parties to the conflict. Despite all these ifs and buts one thing appears to be certain: Russia’s involvement in the Middle East, either militarily or diplomatically, will now become permanent.

Now, turning to the US’s pull-out paving the way for Turkey to attack the Kurds who had in fact fought all along to defeat one of America’s enemies, Isis, it must be said that America has once again weakened its own power in handling global affairs, besides undermining trust in its reliability. This also questions the very meaning of Trans-Atlantic link between America and Europe. Of course, ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, the strategic value of the EU has diminished for the US considerably. Trump’s hailing the Brexit and airing an opinion that “the EU is worse than China, just smaller” has further frozen the doubts of the European leaders about relying on America. This fear became quite evident when Angela Merkel said: “We Europeans must really take our destiny in our own hands”. With the current sudden pullout of the US troops from Syria that is feared to let Isis suspects to escape from the camps guarded by Kurds, who may create mayhem in western capitals, the EU leaders’ frustration and anxiety has further been heightened. Against this backdrop, some analysts are viewing that this sudden pullout of the US troops from a region on Europe’s doorstep as a wake-up call for the European leaders to focus on the emerging geopolitical concerns: the competition between the US, China and Russia in the light of growing bonhomie between China and Russia vis-à-vis the trade wars and South-Pacific conflicts between US and China and the EU’s vulnerability.

Taken as a whole, it appears that the US, despite the ‘cease-fire’ announced by the US and Turkey, has simply made Putin and Russia great. This is all the more disturbing, particularly in the light of Russia’s attempt in the recent past to assert itself as a political power with the newfound support from China. Thus America is today entrapped itself in the web of fighting against China and Russia simultaneously, a feat, its former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger warned against. 

It would however be interesting now to watch how Russia conducts itself in its new role of ‘peace-maker’ in the Middle East!


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