Syria: the powers strain for alliance

The murderous rampage in France, attributed to IS or IS-related forces, has forced the major powers of the Security Council to seek ways and means of agreement on a strategy, or strategies, for coping with the spread of the Syrian disorder, particularly onto the European continent. And obviously they have agreed, irrespective of differences, that the Syrian internal war must not be allowed to ravage the European continent, where we might treat Russia as a part of that geopolitical configuration.

The interruption of what can be called more normal, that is post-Soviet Union, relations between Russia and the Western powers that was the result of the Russian encroachment on, and consequent domination of, a part of the Ukraine had, over recent years, suggested the development of a new rigid Cold War not unlike the era of the existence of the Soviet Union. Yet, at the same time, the Nato powers were well aware that as much as Russia remains one of the ‘greater of the great’ powers, its loss of the basis, and in particular the economic basis, on which the Soviet Union stood and acted, had reduced its dominating status as one of the two senior post-1945 Great Powers.

Thus, even as Russia, under Putin, was able to establish influence over a part of the Ukraine, the whole area of which was once ruled over by Nikita Krushchev in the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, the Russian President will surely have been well aware that things could not be same after the end of the traditional Cold War between the Soviet Union and the Nato states.

Interpretations of Putin’s behaviour in the last few years as wishing to re-establish Russia’s power and influence on the basis of that of the old Soviet Union, while frequently made in the Western world, will, however, have been surely tempered by the fact that such efforts could not be successful. Yet it is probably true to say that the Putin has continued to consider contemporary Russia as being entitled to be perceived and respected, as having a global perspective and potential for exerting influence, in respect of the United States, and certainly on the wider European Union continent. And on that basis, it would appear, he has insisted that Russia is entitled to maintain a global perspective and influence, particularly in respect of areas geographically close, or of economic importance, to Russia.

In recent years, this Russian perspective has been difficult for some of the Western powers to accept, and this has been so particularly on the part of decision-makers (including those in the Congress) in the federal system of the United States. And this, in part, has resulted in a degree of resistance, on their part, to a perspective (and certainly a Russian perspective) that maintains that Russia is, or feels itself, entitled to influence developments in the Middle East.

Thus, prior to the current events relating to Syria, there was resistance in certain spheres of the United States’ federal decision-making structure, of the necessity for Russia to be a virtual co-partner of the United States in the negotiations with Iran, over its potential ownership of a nuclear capability. And indeed most observers will have taken note of the alacrity with which Prime Minister Netanyahu sought to take advantage of a degree of Congressional (and what he clearly thought was a wider public) resistance to the negotiations with Iran, initiated by President Obama, that necessarily involved close cooperation between the US and Russia.

In a sense, in spite of continuing suspicions in the West of Putin’s political diplomacy and actions in the Middle East, the apparent success of the negotiations over Iran’s potential nuclear capability has seemed to legitimize, within the US, President Obama’s current diplomacy in now treating Russia as the substantial partner in coping with the present Syrian-induced crisis.

Clearly, there have been reservations in the US, and perhaps in the wider Western world, of what, in effect, is a decision by Obama to have a cooperative approach among the members of the whole Security Council, in coming to terms with the widening dimensions of the Syrian civil war. And, it seems to be the case that even if there were any doubts about his orientation among some Nato powers, the IS ravages and threats of ravages in Western Europe and in particular France, will have changed minds.

Clearly too, in pursuing this approach, President Obama will know that the interests of Russia will have to be taken into account as the two powers tiptoe to some kind of conclusion. And obviously, what might be considered a difficult perspective on the part of Saudi Arabia in particular, undoubtedly resistant to Russian intervention in the area, and to recent Iranian diplomacy, including over Obama’s nuclear weapons diplomacy towards that country, will make for a delicate approach to finding a resolution to the Syrian civil war.

We can surmise that the European Union, now directly threatened not simply by a flooding of refugees into their area, but by the penetration and murderous ravaging of IS itself into the continent, will be anxious for some resolution of the issues now involved. And in that regard, the probability is that, as in the case of the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear capability, the EU will be anxious to support the United States in the present imbroglio.

Finally, it would appear that it is also within that context, that any Nato countries’ reservations about the objectives and diplomacy of Putin’s Russia as a direct player in the Middle East, are now being put aside, even if cautiously, in the interest of a difficult, but necessary, collective diplomacy, with the acknowledgement of that country’s own perspectives, objectives and active diplomatic presences vis-à-vis the Middle East.

Historically competitive powers now find themselves straining towards a diplomatic alliance, even though perhaps thought to be temporary, in a challenge perceived as facing them all.


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