Geopolitics of the Near East: Results of 2017
One of the main events of the great geopolitical game in 2017 has been Russia reaching its basic goals in the Middle East. During this year, we have succeeded in destroying or driving away the main forces of terrorist groups from the territory of Syria. Thus, towards the end of 2017 the main phase of the military operation in the Syrian Arab Republic was concluded. According to data from the Russian Ministry of Defence, our country has executed a large-scale operation against the banned terrorist organisations ‘Islamic State’ (IS, ISIS) and ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’, which carries the name ‘Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’ since 2016*. As of 7 November 2017, more than 54 thousand warriors have been killed, including 2800 from the Russian Federation and 1400 from the near abroad. With the support of the Russian military, Syrian governmental forces have liberated the whole territory of the country. Thanks to the efforts of Russia, it has been possible to unite the diffuse and hostile groups of the armed opposition in a single front to fight the terrorists. Just in the last year Aleppo was liberated, Palmyra was returned, a large command point for the militants, Akerbat, was taken, which made it possible to conduct a successful operation in Deir-es-Zor. In November, the last strong outpost on the border with Iraq, Bu-Kemal, was taken. For the first time, the Russian Military Police, which provided security for the Centre for the Reconciliation of Hostile Forces, received experience in post-conflict settlement, and also executed security operations during humanitarian actions. These divisions also secured military security for combat engineering detachments for de-mining operations in liberated cities . An important moment is Russia proving to the world that it has the capabilities to conduct strategic operations with the use of its air force and navy at long range and the use of long-range aircraft, which were equipped with bombs as well as high-precision winged missiles.
This means that the US monopoly on the conduction of military operations in the whole world is becoming a thing of the past.
A no less important Russian victory was keeping a loyal political leader, Bashar al-Assad, in power in Syria. This is important, because the accession of any other leader, wittingly illegitimately, would only have caused a destabilisation of the situation and a new turn of the civil war in the country, and as a result, the return of terrorist groups. The fact that Western mass media has practically stopped announcing the necessity of replacing Assad speaks volumes of Russia’s victory. The West has temporarily forgotten about the Syrian president, having de facto remembered his legitimacy. The year 2017 has demonstrated Russia’s ability to conduct subtle diplomacy and reach an agreement with several confrontational sides to the whole world. This year, Russia, Iran, and Turkey have done massive work on the ending of the civil conflict in Syria. The multi-party talks that were started in January have born positive fruit: efforts to get the leaders of the moderate opposition around the negotiating table, ending the civil war in the country, and create de-escalation zones have all been successful. A trend of the continuation of efforts in a trilateral format was clearly marked by a summit of the presidents V. Putin, H. Rohani, and R. Erdogan, which took place on the 22nd of November in Sochi. On this meeting Russia proposed a new idea about the convocation of a Congress of National Dialogue in Syria. This process is set to begin at the end of January, which is maximally approximate to the political, ethnic, and confessional realities of the region, and the city of Sochi has been suggested as the meeting place. It is expected that the Congress will become the missing link uniting Damascus and the opposition and a stimulus to activate a political decision for the conflict within the framework of the Geneva process and under the aegis of the UN. However, it seems unlikely that we can expect anything positive of the Geneva talks in the coming year, as they have barely moved forward during the whole of 2017.
In 2018, the development of the situation in Syria and in the Middle East in general can be seen in the following direction. A clearly defined map of the frontlines and the control of different warring groups over different territories will disappear. Having received serious damage from the Russian and Syrian armies, terrorist organisations will without fail change their tactics and transition to a diversionary and partisan war and will start to deliver precision strikes against communities and objects of economic importance. So-called ‘sleeper’ cells of terrorists, who have remained on the territory controlled by government forces and mixed with the civilian population, will definitely wake up. While carrying out their raids and terrorist acts, the ISIS warriors will as before succeed in drawing the attention of international mass media and hold the region in a tense condition and, consequently, receive resources from their curators and sponsors. The battle against terrorists in the Middle East will definitely continue, but gain a somewhat different character. The role and necessity of the use of special forces on land, which have the experience necessary to detect and combat the branching structures of international terrorism, will increase. It is also vital to understand, that significant numbers of fighters managed to escape destruction in Syria and fled with success to Iraq.
With the clear negligence of the anti-terrorist coalition of Western countries, ISIS was not finally destroyed and retained its military potential. An active relocation of ISIS warriors from Syria to Afghanistan is taking place with the aim of destabilising not only Central-Asian governments, which are parts of the sphere of important Russian interests, but also the Xinjiang-Uyghur autonomous region in China.
The territories of Tajikistan and especially Kyrgyzstan might be the weakest to terrorist attacks. The Russian president has more than once mentioned, that our Western partners has ignored intelligence data about combatant movements, thereby allowing the terrorists to leave the encirclement for calmer regions. If we were to see terrorist organisations in the Middle East as a universal Western weapon, used in order to secure economic and, more important, geopolitical goals, actions such as this from our Western ‘partners’ become entire logical.
If we are to look at the history of the birth of a global problem such as international terrorism, then we see that its appearance chronologically coincides with the fall of the Soviet-Union. The Western model of geopolitics is historically based on the manipulation of the world through fear. The fact of the ‘spectre of communism’ haunting the world was very useful for the West. The struggle with the Soviet-Union and the attempt to stop it throughout the world has served as justification for many US acts: the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the placement of military bases throughout the world, rude intervention in the internal affairs of other sovereign states. The image of the leader in the battle against communism, too, was taken to be very respectable by the West. While celebrating its victory in the ‘Cold’ War, the US faced the problem of creating another source of universal evil which could be used to scare the whole world and dictate its rules of the game.
Already in 1994, the Taliban formed in Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda was active, after which other radical Islamist organisations appeared. International terrorism has now started to play the role of worldwide bogyman, and the fight against it will be supported by the world community in every possible situation. According to Western logic, terrorism is a universal key that opens all doors and has made it possible to reach practically any goals. It has been made possible, by supporting radicals through third parties and middlemen, to pressure or coup legitimate regimes, take territories that are rich in natural resources and then secretly trade in these resources, and create hotbeds of conflict, call for mass immigration to Europe , and close oil and gas pipelines, thereby sabotaging large international projects of their competitors . And when the situation has fully spiralled out of control and the region has fallen into chaos, it is always possible to interfere in events by way of force, seeing as the fight against terrorism is a good cause and, without any doubt, will get support from the UN. This is what the phenomenon of the quick success of the terrorist group IS, which had victoriously fought in the Middle East during 2014-2015, is based on.
Terrorism has become one of the mechanisms of Western geopolitics, and the fight against it is but a political and military simulacrum.
Thus, as far back as the summer of 2014, the American government sent its first anti-terrorism instructors to Iraq to help the fight against terrorism, and in September the US collected an international coalition for the fight against IS, which became the largest union of nations of its kind in history; it currently consists of 68 countries. According to the US State Department, towards the end of 2017 the coalition has spent more than 24 billion dollars on military operations . The person who isn’t educated in politics can only be amazed at such a strange discrepancy between the formidable anti-terrorist forces and the successes of the militants. However, if we are to look at the nature of international terrorism as a Western weapon, all questions cancel themselves out. And only after Russia’s engagement in the Middle East did the situation start to move in another direction. The geopolitical initiative in the region was fully taken by our country, a real struggle against terrorism begun, and Syria received hope of preservation and an end to the chaos in the future. During the Russian Army’s operations, more than 60.000 fighters were eliminated in Syria.
As the head of the Russian government noted, “Russia, as has happened before in history, has provided the main, decisive contribution to the destruction of the aggressive force, which had posed a challenge to the whole of civilisation, to the destruction of the terrorist army of a barbarian dictatorship, which sowed death and destruction and wiped hospitals, schools, mosques, churches, and global heritage from the face of the earth, which tried to turn Syria and its neighbours into a bridgehead for global aggression, the target of which was and still is our country” . To continue president V.V. Putin’s idea, that “our American partners speak of a willingness to cooperate, including in the struggle against terrorism, but in reality, use these terrorists for the destabilisation of the internal situation in Russia” , we must expect attempts to break the front and a repeated encroachment of the terrorists in spring 2018, when presidential elections will be held in Russia. A military destabilisation of the situation in the Middle Eastern region, as well as attempts to disrupt negotiations between the Assad government and the opposition will most certainly not only draw away Russian efforts, but also create in the eyes of the public an image of an ‘eternal’ conflict which Russia has gotten itself bogged down in. The presentation of information in such a tone will be very handy for Western governments, which are interested in shattering the Russian social situation in March 2018.
Having displayed political will and decisiveness in Syria, Russia has not just succeeded in successfully solving the crisis in the region. The successes of the Russian Army and Russian diplomats in the Middle East must be examined as the beginning of a new world order, proposed by Russia. The epoch of the unipolar world and the diktat of the US are coming to an end. Our country has once again proved to the world community, that we are as before ready and able to execute our historical, civilizational mission: supporting the balance of power in the world and keeping it from collapsing. Russia has, as always, started on the road of pretenders to world power, has succeeded in stopping a planned chain-destruction of states, cultures, and civilisations, and has proposed another model of world order to the world, based on equality and respecting other peoples and states. The wave of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has subsided, projects for the creation of a ‘controlled’ chaos, and coups planned by the Americans in Iran and Turkey have been averted. Russia’s main task in this stage of the geopolitical game is to try and bring together the Sunni world of Turkey and the Shia world headed by Iran, develop a joint project of actions for the stabilisation of the situation in the region, and overcome the results of the crisis. Such a turn of events will not suit the West at all, which will certainly use all its power in an attempt to break the international agreements in the Middle East and try to apply any technological methods of ‘controlled’ chaos. The unipolar world will avenge the successes of Russia in the Middle East especially harshly, by terrorist raids, all kinds of provocations, ‘colour’ revolutions, hacker attacks, and a powerful information war.
The main strike in the hybrid war of the near future will be directed against our country, and we must very seriously and very early prepare for it.
The risks of a destabilisation of the situation in the Middle East in 2018 are related to the Kurd question. If towards the end of 2017 the Iraqi government managed to prevent the collapse of the country, having declared the results of the Kurd referendum about secession void, it has not been possible to fully solve the question of separatism. The risk of Iraq collapsing into a so-called ‘Shiastan’, ‘Sunnistan’, and Kurdistan remains and will most likely become more aggravated come spring 2018, when new members of parliament and legislative representatives in the provinces will be chosen, after which the next cabinet will be formed. The US, playing on the internal contradictions of the region, will definitely use this precedent and try to dictate its conditions in this ‘battle for Iraq’. It is possible that an attempt to push the pro-government Shia ‘Hashd Al-Sha’abi’ units into the Kurd ‘Peshmerga’.
It is not difficult to see, that in order to disrupt the stabilisation plans in the Middle East, the US will try to disrupt the alliance of three countries: Iran, Russia, and Syria. One of the ways to reach this goal could be the creation of a complex of economic and political problems for Iran, which the Iranian government will try to solve and will withdraw from world politics in order to do so. On the other hand, a worsening of the situation in a country is always a pretext for social protest and always damages the authority of the government. The created collection of problems can always become the object of barter in world politics, when the removal of sanctions and limitations can only be affected after political concessions from one of the parties. The principle of ‘divide and rule’ works under any conditions. This is why Iran faced several new challenges and difficulties in 2017, among which we must isolate a sensitive terrorist attack on the capital of the country past summer, and also the critically stressed relations between the Islamic Republic, the US and the Arab monarchies. The US military in Syria has executed several attacks against pro-government groups that are supported by Teheran (the Iraqi Shia militia ‘Harakat al-Nudjaba’, the Afghan Shiite volunteers from the ‘Fatimijun’ brigade, and the ‘Zainabiun’ brigade from Pakistan). Growing pressure in relation to their very active participation in military operations on the side of Al-Assad’s Syrian armies has been experienced by Lebanese ‘Hezbollah’ movement and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The American Congress and Treasury have introduced new sanctions against these groups in October. We should also not forget the Iranian nuclear programme, which the Americans have decided to once again drag into the light. The Iranians are accused of developing a missile program that threatens both the country’s neighbours in the Persian Gulf as well as Israel, interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries, and ‘Hegemonic designs’ in the Middle East. The culmination of pressure on Iran has been Donald Trump’s speech on the 13th of October. On this day, the American leader declared a ‘new Iranian strategy’, whose practically every word was drenched in hostility towards Teheran. On Trump’s wishes, the Iranian question was moved to Congress for discussion, who was recommended to ‘improve’ the individual positions of agreement between the six world powers that are involved in the discussions. отдельные положения соглашения. The White House administration considers such an ‘improvement’ to be the lengthening of a number of limitations to Iran’s nuclear program after 2025. The American president has also called Congress to improve the sanctions against the ‘Iranian regime’ after having examined the possible implementation of part of the limiting measures that were active before the activation of the JCPOA. Trump has named Iran ‘a world leader in the state sponsoring of terrorism’ and has accused the ‘Iranian dictatorship’ of aggressive behaviour.
US pressure on Iran has not led to the West’s desired goals. Teheran answered the attempt to enforce conditions with the mobilisation of its entire military and defence complex. A large-scale special operation was executed by Iranian special forces and soldiers to locate the terrorist underground in several of the country’s provinces. Measures of ‘strategic deterrence’ were also activated: mid-range ballistic missiles were launched against terrorist bases in the Syrian province of Deir-es-Zor. It must be noted, that this is the first time in 30 years that a missile was launched outside of Iranian territory. This has become a demonstration of not just military power, but also of the capability to strike at any of the country’s opponents in the region . And on the first of November 2017, a trilateral summit was held in Teheran between Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan. V. V. Putin’s participation in the summit in Iran has been called a “signal to trump, who is bent on killing the nuclear affair.” In 2017, Russia built the first nuclear power units and has also provided Teheran with S-300 anti-missile defence systems. The strengthening of contacts between Russia and Iran is strongly worrying Saudi Arabia, whose main goal is breaking this alliance. It is exactly with this goal in mind, that in October the first in the history of both countries ‘historic visit’ of the Saudi monarchy to Russia took place. This meeting of heads of state led to the signing of multi-billion-dollar contracts. By building relations with Russia, The Saudi’s are really orienting themselves on the Iranian factor while continuing to be unhappy with the relations between Russia and Iran. The main leitmotif of the meeting can be summarised in the formula ‘a friendship with us will bring you far more advantages, than relations with the Iranian regime’. Everything is done to strike a breach between the two Caspian neighbours and sow seeds of suspicion.
The fact that Russia also created local contacts with Turkey while deciding the Syrian question and the resulting Iranian-Turkish rapprochement is also of great importance.
The triple alliance of these countries to the end of 2017 is demonstrating to the world community, that they have enough strength and decisiveness to not only control the situation in the region, but also to decide complex problems the diplomatic way and without the help of middlemen. Turkey itself is located in a difficult position, as relations with its NATO ally, the US, have been finally spoiled. Erdogan’s visit to the US on the 16th of May practically turned out to be without result, and during the year a chain of Turkey-US scandals formed. The logic of developments itself is pushing Turkey towards a rapprochement with Russia. In 2017 Erdogan became a ‘record holder’ on telephone contact and personal meetings with Vladimir Putin. From the 10th of March onward, on meetings of the Russian-Turkish Council on high-level cooperation the two presidents had seven personal meetings. The result of these meetings became the beginning of the construction of the ‘Akkuyu’ nuclear power station with the participation of the Russian company The realisation of the large gas project ‘Turkish stream’ is continuing. In the beginning of November, the first line of the gas pipeline entered the exclusive economic zone of Turkey.
As revenge for Russia’s Middle Eastern successes, the West will definitely try to destabilise the situation in the Southern Caucasus, i.e. in Georgia and Armenia. For example, in Armenia the development of a pro-Western opposition continues, and this movement has already succeeded in capturing several positions of power. Very telling are NATO military exercises in Georgia, which Armenian soldiers took part in. The organisation of such joint trainings, which have received the codename [Honourable Partner], are exclusively to be seen as a Western attempt to strike a breach between the countries of the (ODKB), which Armenia is a member of. Ukraine is also not standing by the sidelines; the country will also be used by our ‘partners’ as a pressure mechanism on Russia and as a factor of the destabilisation of the situation in the region. The blockade of Tiraspol, which the Ukrainian leadership has already joined up with, is seen as the first step towards the worsening of the situation in Transnistria.
2017, the year of the great geopolitical game in the Middle East, is ending optimistically to a large degree. Apart from the gigantic number of very difficult contradictions, which we can only begin to solve in the future, the most important thing has been achieved: the road towards a stabilisation of the situation has been marked, Syrian statehood has been saved, and the population of Syria has received hope on a better life. Russia has succeeded in effectively using US failures to strengthen its position in the region and reach its goals. The current year can confidently be called the year of shining Russian geopolitical victories. However, the main result of the last year is the fact, that several countries and peoples of the Middle Eastern region have not just seen a new pole and orientation of world politics in Russia, but also a centre for a more just world order.
* In accordance with decisions of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, the organisations that are listed below are seen as terrorist and their actions are forbidden on Russian territory: ‘Islamic State’ (IS), ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’, ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’, «Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’, ‘Al-Qaeda’, and ‘Taliban’.
Links to sources:
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Translated from the Russian by V.A.V.