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Transformations In Middle East And Russia’s Interests – OpEd

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By Ali Bluwi

Russia’s passionate defense of Syrian President Bashar Assad is not difficult to understand. Moscow offered Iraq to Washington on a silver platter. It provided the Americans with all the secrets of Iraq. The irony is that Iraq refused to provide the Americans with secrets of the Russian tanks during the Iraq-Iran war.

Obviously, Russia has lost a lot as it suffers from a lack of a strategy in its relations with the countries in the region. It kept itself on the fringe of the Western decision with regard to the Palestinian question. Indeed, with all defects and flaws in the Soviet Union, it was much more credible than Russia of today. Russia of today is disoriented, to say the least.

The current Tsar of Russia, Putin, pledged Russia’s political decision for a Western compliance with rotation of power in Moscow. If anything, this is an unwise ploy to create the impression that Russia is a democratic state. As we are familiar with the ins and outs of international politics, we can understand that Russia — that has liberated itself from its political ideology with the advent of Putin — does not care about the survival of Assad. Interestingly, Putin once asked for a membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation under the pretext of Russia’s historical relationship with Muslim world and that Muslims constitute some 15 percent of Russia’s population. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s statement, therefore, that his country’s fear of a possible Sunni domination in Syria is nothing but a stale joke. It seems that Lavrov is trying to put a high price tag on a deal rather than to respect the international ethics that Russia lacked on many occasions.

Moscow must have believed the Syrian and Iranian manipulations that the latest wave of protests in Russia against the election of Putin erupted due to Qatari indirect intervention.

This might explain the Russian resentment toward Qatar that has been accused of being behind the international attempt to force Assad to leave.

No one in Moscow is paying attention to the clandestine meetings between Assad’s envoys and the Iranian intelligence. In these meetings, it was agreed that Assad would not accuse Al-Qaeda of carrying out the explosions in Damascus and instead to focus on Salafi movements as being behind the explosions.

Moscow’s fear of Sunni Islamists taking over in Syria is very funny. A majority of Arab analysts think that the movements of political Islam are living their final stage as a pluralist and a civil state is likely to impose itself. The real danger does not lie in Islam per se and not in Sunnah but in the political fatal mistake when Moscow turned its back on its relationship with the Arab and Muslim world.

It made a mistake when it made itself hostage to the naïve analysis of the head of the center for counterterrorism, Andrei Novikov, who confirmed that Russia and previous republics of the Soviet Union are heading for revolutions similar to the Arab Spring. This might be true as domestic corruption can be a key reason for these revolutions. But, who can convince Russian citizens with the election of Putin, or with his policies of protecting murderers and providing them with weapons? I rule out any comeback for Russia to the Middle East as it is scared of Islamists and the new media. Putin views the Internet and social media as dangerous tools that can be used by killers and terrorist. Perhaps, Putin should have stressed that these are modern tools that cannot be restricted under the pretexts of the possibility of terrorists benefiting from these tools.

That said, I think that Russia’s fears have to do with unwise policies that have put it in an unviable position. Its problem today is that it is still being governed by a mindset from the past and the KGB is still calling the shots. Thus far, Russia has demonstrated a lack of understanding as why people in East Europe rose against the Soviet Union. Moscow will soon realize that it made a mistake with regard to the Syrian people who are poised to teach Moscow a lesson to respect the will of people regardless of their religion. The story of Syria is one of people looking for freedom that has been confiscated by a regime that is being supported by both Iran and Russia.

During a recent forum, Russia was trying to cling to whatever status it still enjoys. It stressed that what happened in Tunisia and Libya was due to external support. Russia stopped short of saying that the change took place after decades of tyranny and dictatorships that pushed people to take to the street. The support of Russia for Qaddafi for instance, pushed the Libyans to reject genuine relations with Moscow.

Therefore, the statement of the director of the African studies institute that the media has been unfair to Russia and that Russia’s mission was to protect the rights of the Syrian people to self-determination without external interference is simplistic. In fact, Arab intellectuals still view Moscow as being for freedom. Additionally, Arabs do not call for external intervention as a prerequisite for change in Syria. More importantly, Assad must respect the will of his own people and should allow Syrians to rule themselves.

Evidently, there is a widening trust gap between the Arabs and Russia. The latter has committed some fatal mistakes in the past such as giving up on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Moscow will make another mistake when it will realize that there is a new international and regional order in the making. In my modest opinion, the current changes will not stop at Damascus and Tehran but will reach Russia next and this is Russia’s real concern.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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