2013-2014 is likely to mark a new turn in the power struggle among major players in international politics, judging from unexpected developments in diplomatic events. The Syrian conflict propelled Russia on the front scene of international politics, and henceforth, growing hostility in Western-Russian relationship points to a new form of a Cold War.
While all-weather friends in oil-rich countries, the trigger-happy trio, the UK, the US and France were set to fly to Syria and bombard the government out of power on humanitarian grounds, Russia stepped in, backed by China, to act as a mediator between Bachar Al-Assad and the international community. In September 2013,Vladimir Putin was unanimously hailed as the winner of the diplomatic game as talks with the Syrian President led to an agreement whereby the government accepted to destroy its stock of chemical weapons.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 urged the West to cancel the G8 summit at Sochi. The return of Russia as a superpower or behaving as such raises serious concerns in the Western bloc, which wrongly believed that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia would disappear as a major player in international politics. Allegations run high as regards Russia’s role in fomenting separatist sentiment amid pro-Russia population in Ukraine. The Russian President keeps recalling his country’s commitment to work in partnership with the West, and this relationship should not be sacrificed on account of any specific international issue.
In the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, Russia was presumably made to believe former US President George Bush Senior’s statement regarding the extension of the European Union which would not encroach into the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). But what Russia has been witnessing over the years is the expansion of the EU and the increasing presence of NATO forces in its backyard. NATO is the military extension of the United States, heir to one of the superpowers of the Cold War. A sentiment of insecurity and uncertainty runs deep in official discourses of the Russian government as regards the intention of NATO. It is perceived as a strategy to isolate Russia on a geographical and diplomatic level. Hence the growing distrust and hostility towards NATO.
The 2008 conflict in Georgia was internationally mediatized to favour the Western stance on the issue. Commentators and experts of all hues who are invited to analyse political issues in Western media are seen as mouthpieces of their respective governments, which means that journalists are not doing their job of informing and analyzing different points of views. Seemingly, Western journalists value freedom and subjective handling of information in internal matters of their country, but rally with their governments in international matters, and widely broadcast views which show their government’s position in a favourable light. “It is difficult for us to find a space for our opinions in the pages of their newspapers,” Gregory Karasine, deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, observed. The media system of the West, he added, is a well-organized machinery which publishes opinions that suit the official discourse in their countries.
In the wake of the pro-Russian separatist movement in Ukraine, the French government unilaterally sent its naval forces on the sly in Russian waters, an incident which was not given world media coverage. It was perceived as a blatant provocation by Russia. A series of diplomatic and international events has impacted negatively on the strategic representation of different players on the world stage.
At the end of his European tour in March 2014, US President Obama seemed to be warning Russia that the road to the future does not lie in a return to methods which prevailed in the Cold War era. The official discourse in Russia emphasizes the country’s commitment to work in partnership with the West, but looks set to defend its zone of influence, stand as an obstacle to thwart the Western agenda, and mete out a fitting response to methods adopted by Western countries during the Cold War era. As old antagonism resurfaces, the relationship between the two blocs is likely to remain a conflictual partnership in the near future.
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As early as in the mid 90s, after more than four decades of world peace, the Middle East region was predicted to be the next zone of conflict. The Palestinian issue and anti-Western rhetoric in the Arab world have been the main factors of mounting tension which threatened to flare up in the hottest spots of the world. For obvious reasons, the danger of religious extremism which expanded alongside the pro-Palestinian cause and propagated its own religious and political agenda across the world, was downplayed by the superpowers, especially the US, until the Twin Towers were reduced to smithereens, radical groups threatened Western interests in Africa, terror attacks blew up buses and trains in London and Madrid after the invasion of Iraq, and bomb explosions took the lives of Western nationals in Bali and the Indonesian capital.
The dismantling of the USSR fostered separatist movements in Eastern Europe with the US intervening only in Bosnia to halt mass killings of insurgents. Yougoslavia was discredited on the world scene, and the views of its leaders regarding resentment over infiltration of inhabitants from neighbouring Albania into Yougoslavian territory to alter its demographic balance on a religious and ethnic basis were hardly given a favourable echo in Western media. Other countries were more or less left to grapple with separatist movements on their own terms.
Under the leadership of Putin, a former chief of the KGB and heir to the spirit of Russian nationalism and pride built up after centuries of humiliation inflicted by Moghul rule and subsequent submission to internal régimes, Russia meted out an iron-fisted treatment to Chechen insurgency. In Asia, India, China, the Philippines, Thailand, and probably Burma soon, are assaulted by separatist movements which sporadically flared up in violent attacks on civilians. The African continent is not spared either.
Historical facts sink into oblivion unless they are occasionally brought to public attention. Let us not forget that George W. Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ was based on his faith in the ideology of Christian fundamentalists who brazenly support the idea that the West should control oil resources in the world. The invasion of Iraq is not just a mistake or a blunder; it is an unforgivable crime against the sovereignty of an independent country. Both the US and Britain are responsible for the current chaos in Iraq. Presently, Europe and the Americans are issuing warnings to rogue leaders on a daily basis. As things stand, there is no just and impartial international institution to sue imperialist Western powers in court.
The Shia-Sunni divide has become the focus of heated debate in international, read
Western media. Yet, until recently Shias and Sunnis cohabited without getting at each other’s throats. How the differences have been exacerbated over the last decades and deliberately manipulated by the West to keep the Muslim world divided do not draw media attention. Now we are confused with all sorts extremist groups, offsprings of other groups who are friends or enemies of Western powers, depending on the enemies the West aims to eliminate. The greatest enemies of Western interests were Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi who kicked out imperialist forces and used oil resources to develop their country for the benefit of their own people, which is considered as an anomaly by Western powers with an imperialist mindset. They saw to it that both leaders got captured and killed by their own people. The onus is on the Muslim world to settle the Shia-Sunni antagonism propped up by Saudi Arabia’s right-wing army of Wahhabi-Salafi bigots, put an end to the hostility with Iran with a view to building up a united Arab and Muslim world and promote peace. Division strengthens opponents.
The fall of Communist ideology in the 1980s left a void on the international platform, which is said to have left a free space to the propagation of a radical Islamic ideology, and left the US as a sole superpower on the world stage. The muscled comeback of Russia as superpower on the international platform, with the likely support of comrade China, is bound to refill the void of the 80s, obstruct unilateral Western-oriented interventions spearheaded by the US in hot spots, and give a better visibility to the use and misuse of extremist forces by Western powers in the self-centred pursuit of interests, and check the expansion of religious extremism. Amid the current turmoil and chaos in the Middle East, signs of a reshaping of the balance of power are likely to occur in a near future.
* Published in print edition on 27 June 2014