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The Ukraine-Syria Complex: What Does Putin Want?

'Putin is a neo-liberal modernizer who wants to restore Russia as a great, sovereign nation'

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Originally appeared at Hintergrund. Translated from the German by Susan Neumann.

Once again, they want to fog up [reality.] They’re trying to make us believe that the only thing standing in the way of the democratization process in Ukraine is Russia's support for the unrecognized republics Donetsk and Lugansk. Russia’s adherence to President Baschar el-Assad is the only thing preventing an established peace in Syria, which would bring about an end to the terror and an end to the stream of refugees.

The fact is, only after Juncker’s ultimatum was Poroshenko willing to introduce an anti-discrimination law in parliament, and to refrain from taking on people from the ruling oligarchical clans as members in the Anti-Corruption Commission. EU Commission President Juncker had ultimately told Poroshenko that the Ukraine would not receive the pending loan installments if Poroshenko couldn’t finally bring himself to making significant concessions.

It’s been paid now. After the three presidential elections in May 2014, after the parliamentary election in October of the same year, after the recent local election in October 2015, and after the establishment of a constitutional commission that would decentralize the country; Poroshenko can now finally say that the Ukraine is on the path to democracy.

It’s only correct that the election results of the years 2014/15 reveal that the slope of acceptance for the nationalist government has fallen.  This government appeared after the upheaval in February of 2014. There’s also a growing rift within the ruling nationalist coalition. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk didn’t even dare to compete at the local October elections with his run-down party. The area east of Kiev made itself known to be clearly against President Poroshenko, voting strongly in favor of the "opposition block." The populations of Donetsk and Lugansk weren’t even involved in the elections, neither in these elections nor the ones previously held. They’re preparing for their own elections. The Constitutional Commission that was called into existence is the centerpiece of the planned reform and will shape the future relationship between the central and regional areas. When considering the participation of these territories in parliamentary proceedings, it was decided that "criminals" are not be negotiated with.

In short, the question about the status of the separatist areas has yet to be decided; therefore, the conflict — reaching the point of war — can be cooked up again at any time. That’s why, according to the German government in its impenetrable logic, sanctions against Russia cannot be lifted as long as Russia supports the separatists. That’s also why it’s just as logical that Poroshenko invite NATO troops back into the country. So this conflict can be heated up again at any time, along with all other similar conflicts that had been “put on ice".  

Heavy fog over Syria

They want to fog up the situation in Syria, too. Supposedly, the only thing standing in the way of peace and democracy in Syria is the "butcher," Bashar al-Assad, who is also supported by Russia and Iran. Then the country is described as a battlefield of religious fanatics, who can’t come to grips with Western values. It began with the great enemies of the Shiites and Sunnis throughout the various terrorist groups from Al Qaeda all the way up to "(Anti) -Islamist State." Given the situation, the people see the enlightened West as the only means of escape.  All this combined has made a "regime change" unavoidable and perhaps even inevitable.

Reality presents itself differently. [There is] a not-to-be-dismissed account of the situation in the country prior to the first riots in Deraa (author’s note: area in southern Syria on the border of Jordan) In March of 2011, Peter Scholl-Latour left the following account in his last book, which was published just after his death:  (1) in comparison of the surrounding chaos, he writes about the so-called Arab Spring and its disastrous consequences: "In Syria, things were quite different. The United States — in cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Israel — did not wait for the first protest demonstrations against the dictatorship of Deraa, Bashar al-Assad and his Alawite-dominated Baath Party, to undermine the foundations of the state.  Long before that there was an unrestrained campaign, a systematic propaganda in the American and European media used against this Arab Republic, a republic which — even taking into account the brutality, which they themselves practice — represents the only secular political system in the entire Arab region. Compared to the preferential allies of the West — be it Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, or Kuwait — the capital Damascus offered an image of religious tolerance and an almost Western lifestyle, ever since Bashar el-Assad accepted his  inheritance from his uncompromising father, Hafez el-Assad. Somewhere, in secret command posts, in secret factories of disinformation operated masterfully by Anglo-Saxon opinion manipulators, the motto was adopted that Syria had to give in to the American belief [which included] a deceptive reorganization of the Middle East. (...) In any case, long before the outbreak of local revolts in Deraa and Homs, there was the relentless demand for the destruction of the Damascus regime. When I was in Damascus in December 2011, there was still nothing to be felt of any struggle ... "(2)

Syria as linchpin

Nevertheless, Scholl-Latour leaves open that which lies hidden behind the "masterfully crafted mottos" and “secret command posts." You also don’t hear anything in the general media about it. [There’s] a hint which will be given here. It can lead into the background, which will definitely have to be delved into deeper.  Only a few years after the turn of the millennium, new promising gas deposits were found off the Syrian Mediterranean coast. Oil fields were also discovered in Golan Heights. Ever since then, Syria is dealt with as the linchpin of all future oil and gas supplies. However, the details of the annual results of the findings and the sizes of the fields vary. Once again, there is considerable need for clarification.

At least since the year 2009, the Government of Qatar has tried to arrange an agreement with Assad to build a pipeline. The very large but up to that point poorly developed gas fields in the Persian Gulf would flow over the Arabian Peninsula to the north, over Syria and Turkey, up to the Nabucco-Pipeline. This project of the EU was built around the turn of the century to rival the Russian South Stream and was previously untapped for lack of supply. Assad rejected the deal in 2011. Instead, apparently anticipating a Syria exploitation of the Mediterranean gas fields, he made a contract with Iran in 2013 for the construction of a pipeline leading from the Iranian gas fields through Syria to the Mediterranean. What’s fatal about all of this is that both Qatar and Iran are laying claim to the gas field below the Persian Gulf.

Assad's decision was a hot deal for Syria, if not understandable — because instead of just collecting transit fees, Syria would be both the supplier and beneficiary of transit fees, if such a project were to come to fruition. It’s also understandable that the Government of Qatar was more than a little upset about Assad’s cancellation and the subsequent pivot to Iran, especially since this arrangement goes beyond immediate economic competition; it taps into the permanent religious war of the Wahabi-Sunni Islam of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the Shiite-Islam of Iran.

At least since 2013, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have acted as financiers and suppliers for Assad’s opposition. Three billion dollars must have flown out of Qatar by now, all in support of the “opposition”. The amounts that have been financed; how much the Saudis have invested, and beyond that, how much the United States has invested, can only be estimated at this time. Not having the exact details prevents us from naming figures. Unfortunately, the Middle East has, so far, no one like Victoria Nuland.

However, the often puzzled-over breakup of the former "friendship" between Assad and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo(ğ)an can be explained here.  With the loss being a transit country in Syrian-Iranian pipeline project, Turkey didn’t just lose a lucrative transit operation. They lost out on the possibility of exerting pressure on the EU.

The geopolitical context

What happened after this situation was created is understandable only in a geopolitical sense. First of all, let’s envision again the current basic situation that can viewed as a juxtapostition of all the three major transformation trends currently happening around the globe: the post-Soviet partitioning of the world, the crisis of the nation state, and the fundamental problem of how we want to live in the future if we’re not subject to the spent “either-or” of socialism OR capitalism.

These three basic trends overlap each other. At the overlap points, alternating knots of conflict are formed which — after they’ve been broken up and used — are generally left unresolved as whole, or they remain as half-frozen deferred conflicts. Only to name the last few: the day before yesterday [it was] Moldova [and] Georgia; yesterday the Ukraine; today Syria and the entire "Crescent." Maybe tomorrow [it will be] the North Pole, whose territorial claim provides the start [of a new conflict] for those already driving their marked stakes into the ground.

As different as these conflicts are, there’s one constant variable, a common thread that runs through all of them: the containment of Russia as a potential rival for the US, who still sees itself as the only world power. The possible conflict with China, India, and other countries that might connect themselves to Russia is lurking in the background.

Why Russia?  It cannot be repeated enough:  because Russia is the only country that has, throughout its history, evaded the control and associated exploitation of its resources through the colonial grip of the West — and it continues to this day.

Always the same method

Let’s direct our attention to the Ukraine and Syria. The method is essentially the same in each case. The main message is as follows:

  • Russia can no longer remain an empire without the Ukraine.

  • Without its alliance with Syria, Russia can only realize the half of its resource-based exports.

For both of these methods, there exist strategies worth following up on, and these need to be briefly clarified here:

  • Ukraine:  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990-91, the “winner” USA unmistakably and publicly formulated their intention to free the Ukraine from Russian influence in order to secure US hegemony.  This is the religious mantra that has been repeated most obviously by Zbigniew Brzezinski throughout his various books. For the Kiev "Regime Change" of 2013/14, this strategy was implemented tactically. (3)

  • Syria: Post-9/11, year 2001, the neoconservative forces behind George W. Bush [started] the "Project for the New American Century," which — regardless of a nation-state’s sovereignty — focused on a gradual subjugation of the states in the Mesopotamian area, all in the interests of the US. This policy has been camouflaged by its initiators as a "war against terrorism," sometimes referred to as the "Fourth World War." (The "Cold War" is considered to be the Third.) The final phase of this war should be the acquisition of Syria. (4)

Already at the time of planning these strategies — both in 1990, 1991, and even in 2001 —international energy experts drew a “strategic ellipse” on a map.

Contained in the ellipse was the largest-known share of oil and gas reserves, from the northern and central Russia, down to the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The Russian resources in the north and the south of the Mesopotamian-Arab region were equally represented in this ellipse. By making use of new discoveries and possibly activating previously untapped oil fields in the Mesopotamian-Arabian region, and considering the fact that this tight oil [oil trapped in impermeable rock] is currently thought to be the supply of the future, the southern part of this ellipse has reached a resource weight which could far exceed that of Russia’s.

If previously untapped gas from Qatar were to be fed directly into the Nabucco line, it would inevitably cut Russia off as a resources supplier, providing Russia were to lose the Ukraine as well.  This would indeed be life-threatening, because the entire South Stream, leading out from Russia and the Central Asian interior, would be severed. This affects deliveries to Europe. This loss could not be quickly compensated through a redirection to China, India, and other Asian countries.

Conversely, Assad’s decision for a joint project with Iran had to lead to bitter hostility towards Syria on the part of Qatar and the Saudis — and of course this has brought consequences from their ally the US, who had set its hopes on being able to wrestle Russia to the ground.

One recalls that it wasn’t long ago, in 2013, when the US Secretary of State John Kerry was on the verge of declaring war on Syria. It was the occasion where Assad was immediately blamed for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian slaughter, although to this day there hasn’t been any clear evidence in support of this. An escalation was prevented solely through Russian intervention. This intervention prompted Assad to have his chemical weapons be destroyed under international control. (5)

The hope of being able to circumvent Russia was fostered  and is being fostered by the EU politicians, by the way. These politicians have had the issue for more than a decade, in which they’ve complained about their oil and especially their gas dependence on Russia, and they have felt the need to "diversify" in order to make deliveries with their purposefully-built but so far untapped Nabucco Pipeline. This interest has increased among the EU politicians with current geopolitical tensions. One can assume that the conflict over the projected pipelines and the future use of natural gas fields is not over.

Putin's offensive defense

Taking into consideration all the aforementioned conditions, Russia's policy in Ukraine as well as in Syria, including their current bombing of the "pro-democracy forces" opposing Assad, can only be judged as an offensive defense. It’s important to mention that the Russians are operating in observance of Syrian sovereignty; concretely, [they had] prior agreement of Syria’s elected head of state.

Please, no confusion! Looking at all the fundamental problems that have been mentioned – repartitioning of the world and the crisis of the nation state, how do we want to live? — We have to be clear: Putin is not Russia. Russia's future power extends far beyond Putin. Putin is also not a socialist. He’s not a democrat and not an anti-capitalist. He’s also not a sponsor of the world revolution, promoting the idea that capitalist production is the worst cause of the present conflict; that is, the expanding migration out of the exploited southern hemisphere of the globe into the industrial centers. A reverse migration into new settlements in the countries of origin can only be effected with a fundamentally different industrial policy, which would end the migration favoring the development of local and regional economies, which was caused by the capitalist mode of production.

This is not Putin's goal. One only need to look at the Republics Donetsk and Lugan(s)k, and how he has dealt with their democratically-counselled dreams of self-determination and autonomy; or the building of an autonomous "Novorossiya" in Eastern Ukraine. After offering his short-term opportunistic support, he — how does one say — brushed off these cases. His goal is evident in his social policy, and how he reintroduced the class society in Russia, by restricting the basic rights of the dependent labor force. The fact that criticism [of his policy] is so limited is due to the fact that the population regards him as the defender of their homeland against colonization attempts coming from the outside.

Putin is a neo-liberal modernizer who wants to restore Russia as a great, sovereign nation. What distinguishes his national as well as his foreign policy is his ability to pursue a course leading from a weak position towards that of building a consensus. Since his inaugural in 1999/2000, he has involved the Russian oligarchs in his taking charge of the new Russia. In matters of foreign policy, he has acted out of a cooperation of weak elements, out of which begins to build its own independent strength. This has already had the effect of putting the US in its place, and the US has always seen itself as being the word’s police. In other words, under Putin’s political leadership, Russia is the leading force under the weak; a force which is currently against the warmongering dominance of the US, and which is in favor of a cooperative world order among sovereign states.  Putin’s political policy is what he himself calls "an architecture for global security" - no more, no less.

To be able to recognize [the need for such architecture] in the atmosphere of current global conflict requires a stance of critical solidarity. Putin understands this solidarity as being a de-escalating force.  [The author says this] without trying to put [Putin] on a pedestal of being a possible Nobel Peace Prize recipient, as was the case with his opponent, Obama.

Authors footnotes and sources:
(1) Peter Scholl-Latour, Der Fluch der Bösen Ta(t), Ullstein, Novv. 2015
(2) Ebenda, S. 275/5
(3) Zbigniew Brzezinski, Die einzige Weltmacht, Fischer tb 14358, deutsch, 1999 (English Original: The Grand Chessboard, Basis books, New York 1997). WeitereTitelenglisch, imselben Verlag: Second Chance, 2007; Strategic Vision 2012
(5) Please see Scholl-Latour, Der Fluch der bösen Tat, Page 281

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