Monday, August 29, 2016

The Power Vertical

Can Putin Come In From The Cold?

The spy who came in from the cold?
The spy who came in from the cold?
By Brian Whitmore

He wasn't ostracized. He wasn't isolated. And certainly nobody threatened to shirtfront him. 

In the space of a year, Vladimir Putin has gone from being the pariah of Brisbane to being the star of Antalya. The contrast between last year's G20 summit in Australia and this year's in Turkey couldn't have been sharper.

Then, Putin was browbeaten by Western leaders for annexing Crimea and supporting separatists in Donbas. Now, everybody wants to talk to him about teaming up to fight Islamic State militants. 

Then, Putin's humiliating early exit from the summit made international headlines. Now, everybody is talking about that photo of him huddling with U.S. President Barack Obama.

At the Brisbane summit, which took place months after the downing of Flight MH17, the vibe was all about tension between Russia and the West. At the Antalya summit, which came just days after IS's terror attacks in Paris, it was all about unity.

"Putin has changed the G20 agenda from being dominated by Ukraine to having been taken over by Syria," Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, wrote recently. 

"A number of Western powers now want to fight with Russia against ISIS, ignoring everything else about Russia's policies. That Russia has escalated its military aggression in Ukraine in the last weeks apparently does not matter much to the West."

So is Putin about to get what he has always wanted? Is he now a step closer to forging that "broad international coalition against terrorism" he called for in his speech to the UN General Assembly in September?

Revive 1945, Bury 1991

In his UN speech, Putin invoked the spirit of World War II, calling for an alliance "similar to the anti-Hitler coalition" that united "a broad range of parties willing to stand firm against those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind." 

He also invoked the Yalta conference, which laid "a solid foundation for the postwar world order." And he lamented that the end of the Cold War left the world "with one center of dominance."

And all this was no accident. 

Putin wants to relive 1945 and exorcise 1991. He wants to resurrect the glory of the Soviet victory in World War II; and he wants to bury the humiliation of the Soviet defeat in the Cold War.

He wants a temporary alliance of convenience with the West in Syria, one that will end Moscow's international isolation and get sanctions lifted. 

Then he wants a modern version of the Yalta conference, in which Russia and other great powers will divide up the world into spheres of influence.

And of course he wants a free hand in the former Soviet space.

"Russia’s war with the West will not end as long as these new principles are not introduced by 'internationally binding commitment,'" Slawomir Debski, editor in chief of Intersection, wrote in a recent column.

A Window Of Opportunity

Putin clearly thinks that the November 13 Paris attacks give him a window of opportunity to advance these goals.

As political commentator Leonid Bershidsky noted in a recent column, a month ago French President Francois Hollande said Putin "is not our ally" in Syria; but now he is calling for Moscow and the West "to unite our forces."

It is probably no accident that just days after the Paris attacks, and shortly after Hollande's call for unity, Moscow finally acknowledged what it had been denying for weeks: that the October 31 Metrojet crash in Egypt was an act of terrorism.

Putin pledged to pursue those responsible "everywhere, no matter where they are hiding," adding that Russia was "counting on all of our friends during this work, including in searching for and punishing the criminals."

And right on cue, speaking at the APEC summit in Manila, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said: "The terror attacks that Russia and France have just faced affected the whole world. The terrorism expansion is indeed a global challenge. And it requires a united response."

The Moscow punditocracy is also on message. Political analyst Aleksei Arbatov told the daily Kommersant that the Paris attacks will alter relations with the West "in the direction of greater mutual sympathy." 

All of this has opponents of the Putin regime duly alarmed. 

A Russo-Western alliance in Syria would be "morally repugnant, strategically disastrous, and entirely unnecessary," self-exiled Russian opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, author ofthe book Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin And The Enemies Of The Free World Must Be Stopped, wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

"President Obama and other Western leaders desperate to resolve the conflict in Syria should keep in mind that the enemy of your enemy can also be your enemy," Kasparov wrote.

A Limited Detente
So far, Moscow's rapprochement with the West has been been confined to Syria -- and mostly confined to optics and rhetoric. 

French and Russian warplanes have conducted air strikes in the IS stronghold of Raqqa and Putin has ordered the commander of the battleship Moskva to treat France as an ally. 

But huge differences remain over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other Western powers have not exactly been rushing into Moscow's arms.

And despite fears in Kyiv that Ukraine might would get thrown under the bus, there is no evidence of the West softening its stand against Russia's annexation of Crimea and intervention in Donbas.

There have been no moves to lift -- or even ease -- sanctions. And there has certainly been no indication that anybody is prepared to give Russia a free hand in the former Soviet Union. 

"A Western alliance with Putin against Islamic State, if it ever comes to pass, won't be much more than a situational military alliance. There will be no political detente," Bershidsky wrote

"In that sense, the recent terror attacks haven't changed much: The West still has to decide whether to ally itself with a lesser evil to defeat a bigger one."

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Jeff
November 18, 2015 20:59
You seem to be starting from the view that "the West" are considered the good guys around the world.
If you start from the wrong place you can't make good judgements.

by: Dave
November 18, 2015 21:32
Good article. But let us take the 1945 analogy another step.

What happened to the relationship between the USSR and the US after WW2? The relationship soured considerably. And quickly. Meanwhile, Soviet citizens starved and continued to be arrested.

And what would happen, for arguments sake, if the RF's current Syrian adventure evolved into a permanent Russian military presence in the Middle East. Could this be compared to the tensions created by the Soviet occupation of eastern Europe post-WW2?

There is certainly plenty of scope for speculation.
In Response

by: Mike Mino from: Denver, Col
November 22, 2015 12:16
I agree with your thought, but we should take this one step further, or back if you will. That Russia and Germany at the start of WW2 were in an alliance to fight and control Europe together. It wasn't until Germany attacked the eastern front breaking the accord that Russia joined the Western alliance because they desperately needed the help...which we gave them and paid with many lives.

So please excuse me if I don't share any sentimental emotions for Russia...yes, they fought WW2 very bravely as a nation and earned the victory...but what would have happened if Hitler kept the commitment he made with Joseph Stain, would the world be in a better place? That question should only be answered by scholars and world diplomats who are a lot smarter than I, but one can speculate.

To understand why Russia is Russia and China is China you must empathize with their feelings and understand regional history...Russia and China were on the short end of the stick at the end of the Cold was all they could do just to keep their countries for the last 35-40 years since the Cold War Ended (and I always said the we didn't win anything, the world just rested), the western world sat back and enjoyed being the only kid on the block with superior advanced technology. Unfortunately we got very comfortable with the ability to do what whatever we wanted...however, while we have been asleep China and Russia embraced the ideologies of capitalism, learning it so well that they made a lot of money (still do) and not only invested in the lives of their own people they both heavily invested in the modernization of their military structure that has caught up with our own technical advancements and even surpassing us in certain areas.

Maybe both China and Russia have a right to expand their area of influence...look at us...we have bases all over the world.
Let China expand into the south china was their territory anyways 1000 years ago...but China would need to understand and agree to Freedom of Navigation to any country wanting to pass through or use the shipping lanes...that would be non negotiable...otherwise welcome back China.

I also think we should align ourselves with Russia to exterminate ISIS once and for all no matter what the political agenda may be from either country...the world can not continue in this fashion any longer being afraid to walk down your own street...ISIS has perfected the art of intimidation through barbaric acts of terror killing thousands of innocent people. These people are nothing but a band of drugged up psychotic zombies that can not be reasoned with.

Lets team up with Russia on this agenda and exterminate these vermin like the insects they are by incinerating the very ground they walk on...Russia and the USA are the perfect logical choice to accomplish this, because until ISIS is completely irradiated the world will never find peace.

by: Mack J from: UK
November 19, 2015 11:40
Interestingly, immediately after the G20 summit, the U.S. announced that its warplanes had begun to bomb ISIS truck convoys used to “smuggle the crude oil it has been producing in Syria”. What a strange coincidence. It's as if the U.S. knew exactly where these convoys were, but didn't feel compelled to destroy them until now. The world is full of mysteries!
But the real story here is that Putin actually got up in front of the world's largest economic powers and told them, right to their faces, that Russia knows exactly what they are doing.

by: Dacey from: US, Tacoma
November 19, 2015 12:02
The Paris plot is another 9/11plot… Assad must remember that France also called for him to step down… This is a trick hatched by the America and NATO so they can infiltrate Syria to get a much close up look at Russia in a covert way… Assad must not ally himself with France… It was France too who helped in the chaos in Libya causing the death of Gaddafi.

by: Tony
November 20, 2015 00:41
Dave makes a good point. Partnering up with Russia to defeat ISIS can make some gains, but acknowledging their power at the same time can embolden their actions in Ukraine when an agreed objective has been completed.

by: Simon Marks from: UK
November 22, 2015 10:51
Putin has not forgotten Ukraine. His victims is in intensive care and Putin would like to finish this country off. This weekend's false flag attack on Crimea's power supply will, no doubt, be used to generate a Polish Moment, an excuse to complete the job of butchering Ukraine. The West, misled as it is by cowards, incompetents and idealist fools like Obama, will be tempted to do a deal with Putin. The vastly deluded Putin already, I imagine, thinks he pulled off a major reverse in his fortune and that he'll be handed bleeding chunks of Ukraine as a reward for the contribution he believes his tinpot forces will make to 'peace' in the Middle East. This won't happen. Putin has no logical strategic or tactical views than can assist. Worse, while the process of achieving peace slowly evolves, he'll be murdering yet more people, annexing yet more territory of a member state of the United Nations. And the refugee crisis he's likely to ignite in Ukraine will match that of Syria for horror. If anyone's deranged enough to compel seven or eight or twelve million Ukrainians to try to relocate to EU territory, it's this psychopath.
In Response

by: Christopher Scott from: USA
November 23, 2015 16:50
Everyone knows why we are in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine... Hello... We created ISIS and all kinds of terrorist and proxy groups to overthrow the leaders of those sovereign countries who do not dance to our Zionist tune. And we helped them to destabilize the regions even more. For instance Assad opposes the strict Muslim way of life and oppression. He is a liberal by Sharia standards.... Can't have that... Hello why do you think the Benghazi embassy was running guns to the Syrian rebels and ISIS??? HELLO!!!! Obama is a Muslim place to sent to destroy our nation and cripple us. All part of US Agenda 21. Wake up sheepleee!!!

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or