Putin in October: Playing on All Boards
Moldova, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Belarus are potential trouble spots to watch in the wake of Russian successes in Ukraine and Syria
This piece was originally published at Cont.ws. Translated from Russian by Sergei Malygin
Most political commentators irrespective of nationality possess a wondrous ability to convince themselves that heads of State fail to understand things they believe to be obvious. This holds true for commentators in the United States, France, Germany and Israel with Russia being no exception.
It has for some years now been clear as daylight to even half asleep observers that neither Russia nor the United States could afford to lose in Ukraine, Syria or anywhere else and that this rivalry is what lies at the heart of the fierce confrontation between the two superpowers. The loser loses everything.
Numerous experts of all imaginable persuasions regularly speculate on what Putin will supposedly concede to Obama and what Obama will supposedly hand over to Putin. Syria for Ukraine, Ukraine for Syria, whether one or the other has already been handed over and which of the US or Russia are getting the better deal. These debates continue unabatedly despite interesting recent developments.
Firstly, Putin addressed the 70th session of the UN General Assembly and timeously worked his way through topics ranging from Syria to Ukraine and several other countries. Russia spelled out, without resorting to vague diplomatic nuances, its intent to build a new world based on its own terms and those of its allies in strict compliance with International Law. The door was left open to all participant countries to join in this venture with Russia.
Secondly, the Russian Air Force commenced operations in support of the legitimate Syrian Government against numerous militant factions operating inside Syria. Even diversity is being catered for with good bombs to be used for good terrorists and bad bombs for bad ones. The West's ambition to regime-change Assad has been removed from the agenda.
Thirdly, Putin attended a Normandy format meeting in Paris at which he obtained French and German support for Russia's position on the Minsk Accords and to have these implemented rather than to stall the process through endless bickering over the interpretations of its clauses.
The Ukrainian diplomatic game remains in full swing where Poroshenko's position is becoming ever more bogged down. It is now close to resembling a zugzwang chess position in which he is compelled to move, while he would rather have done nothing because any move in any direction from his end will weaken his hand.
Poroshenko cannot fully implement the Minsk Accords, since his own side will overthrow him.
Paris and Berlin are demanding extensions to 2016. Moscow, the DNR and LNR are in agreement and are even showing a willingness to make a few meaningless, public relations type concessions whilst in turn Washington demands Kiev backed disruptions of the Minsk Protocols.
The disruption of the agreements, in an environment where Paris and Berlin are clearly not intent on scapegoating Russia, is fraught with an immediate military defeat in South East Ukraine because if the truce is called off (which is how Poroshenko described the Minsk process) the war will continue, which Kiev is in no shape to continue.
Moreover, under conditions of a default, a further sharp and mass impoverishment of the population is inevitable including the loss of remaining financial State resources through lending cuts.
The termination of Kiev's military misadventure in Donbass will lead to an internal implosion, disintegration of the country and the loss of central government control over any area outside of the government district in Kiev. That is supposing that anything of the central government will remain there at all.
Response is inevitable
As a result, Russian supporters of the "Putin gave in" school of thought have come into conflict with their like-minded American and Ukrainian spiritual peers who are peddling the “Obama gave in” version of events. Neither the first nor the second versions of events are accurate.
During the fall of 2015 Russia managed to win important, perhaps critical, battles in the ongoing geopolitical struggle but the war is far from over.
As history and experience has shown, the United States is highly resistant to defeats and will not consider any of them to be faits accomplis.
No sooner had the situation in Ukraine reached military and diplomatic deadlock during the autumn of 2015 than the US focused its intentions on intervening in Syria once more, only to be derailed by Russia again. It can be stated with certainty that the United States is not seeking geopolitical compromise with Russia today, instead searching for ways to inflict damage upon her.
There are four critical points:
1. Ukraine and Moldova
The ongoing local maidan in Chisinau could at any moment dramatically change Moldova's political landscape and exacerbate the situation with Transnistria. In Ukraine, "Right Sector" (the extremist organization banned in Russia) publicly stated after the start of the Crimean blockade that they are ready to expand their operations to Transnistria in cooperation with Moldovan radicals.
A Transnistrian blockade would represent little risk of military defeat for Kiev, whilst keeping their radicals occupied and temporarily increasing the stability of the regime. Unless the situation escalates into a military invasion, it would be difficult for Russia to justify a military operation to end the blockade. Moscow is most likely to create an air corridor, which again will help Kiev to wage a propaganda campaign singing the praises of the blockade's success and provide them with leverage to later escalate the conflict when they choose. It would be sufficient to close Ukrainian airspace to Russian transport planes and declare a readiness to shoot them down.
2. The Caucasus
The Caucasus is another traditional post-Soviet Union hot spot. The frozen Karabakh conflict can be unfrozen at any time. The number of young people from North Caucasus republics within ISIS ranks is estimated at hundreds if not thousands. Recent attempts to destabilize Armenia failed but they can be re-attempted at any time and in any Caucasus state.
Again, the involvement of Russia here is guaranteed whilst a brief military operation would be difficult because the preservation of Moscow's positions in the Caucasus requires the role of an honest broker pursuing a compromise peace, not that of an enforcer aiding one of the warring sides.
3. Central Asia
The Afghan Taliban on the border with Tajikistan could at any moment come into contact with the Russian contingent stationed there.
Additionally, the penetration of Islamic radicals through Afghanistan into the heart of Central Asia threatens to destabilize Russia's main ally in the region - Kazakhstan.
In the event of a border conflict with the Taliban, Russian involvement is almost inevitable and a quick military operation would not be possible. It would lead to a new Afghan campaign.
Presidential elections In Belarus were held on October 11th. Election times are favoured by organizers of "Color Revolutions” but while Alexander Lukashenko's position currently looks quite stable, he took a few too many pages from Viktor Yanukovych's book between 2010-2014.
The concept of “litvinstvo” or ancient litvin ethnos is being supported at the State level where an active search for the ancient roots of a unique Belarusian people is taking place.
The Belarusian authorities are trying to balance the growing Russia influence with "pro-European" rhetoric although this has not yet reached such Homeric proportions as has happened in the Ukraine. From the outside Belarus appears to be under the control of a monolithic ruling elite yet Washington could nevertheless try to shake Minsk. Who they recruited and how many they bought, will only become clear if a coup stands the chance of success.
So, while announcing Putin's victory on all boards in October, we should expect an immediate response by Obama to recover and regroup. I therefore expect an increase in ISIS violence in Syria, higher aggression levels from the Kiev regime and heightened activities of United States agents in all Russia's sensitive post-Soviet space regions.
Rostislav Ishchenko is a columnist at "Russia Today"
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