US, Russia oblige each other in Syria and Ukraine selling off allies

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (on the right) and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel share a laugh before their bilateral meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 2, 2017. [State Department photo/ Public Domain].

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (on the right) and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel share a laugh before their bilateral meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 2, 2017. [State Department photo/ Public Domain].

The US – Russia rapprochement, as having been set in motion by the new tenant of the White House, is to be tested first and foremost in Syria and Ukraine. Washington and Moscow support opposing sides in two catastrophic and bloody civil wars, which have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and thrown millions of refugees out of their homeland. While the millions of Syrian refugees have shook Europe and the world, the refugee flows from eastern Ukraine towards Russia must be underscored too. The mainstream media in the West tend to ‘forget’ it. It’s shameful though, for the US and Russia to still play their games over the human and otherwise ruins, as if they were a chess fixture.

In any case, if this major U-turn in the US foreign policy introduced by Trump is to bear wider results, the two powers have to start coming to terms in both Syria and Ukraine. Not by accident then, during the past few days both the US and the Russian administrations have shown tangible signs, if not of reconciliation, but surely of mutual interest. However the whole issue of reciprocal respect, and why not friendship, is much more difficult for Donald Trump to make acceptable in Washington, than for Vladimir Putin to roll it through in Russia. The Russian President is the absolute ruler in his country, while Trump just thinks he is.

Washington’s U-turn

Apart from the unyielding resistance by Democrat lawmakers against Trump’s strategic changes, important US republican senators like John McCain are denouncing the US inaction in Ukraine during the past few days. McCain points out very loudly that Russia has reactivated her proxy forces in the Ukrainian civil war, which has been ravaging the eastern parts of the country for many years. McCain is not alone in that. It’s pretty clear then that the Trump policies with regard to Europe including Russia, will face detailed scrutiny in Congress, and the White House had better be ready to produce convincing arguments. The heavyweight oil tycoon confirmed by the US Senate as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a friend of Putin, will become the driving force of the new US administration, in pressing the new Russian Trump policy in Washington.

In his first day in the State Department, Tillerson, according to Reuters, said “I know this was a hotly contested election and we do not all feel the same way about the outcome.” In this way he directly threatened those 900 department employees working all over the world, who signed the petition against Trump’s suspension of the US refugee program and the restrictions on travelers from seven Muslim countries. However, the powers and the reasons for conviction of the new US President about Russia are quite strong. In Washington there is no doubt that Trump’s Russian policy will prevail.

VP Pence mobilized

Already, Vice President Mike Pence, a authentic mouthpiece of Trump, said at the beginning of this week that the US may altogether lift the sanctions imposed on Russia by the previous US administration of Barack Obama. Pence clarified that this may be done in the coming few months, if President Putin cooperates with the administration’s fight against the Islamic State. But, for Putin, to cooperate with the US against the islamists is not a condition, it’s his long time dream. Because Russia, and the ex USSR before her, have been fighting Sunni extremism all along the past many decades. On the contrary, it’s the US who keeps some communication doors open with the Sunni militants, through Saudi Arabian connections.

Not to forget, Osama bin Laden, offspring of a powerful and immensely wealthy Saudi family, and his murderous al-Qaeda, the mother of all jihadist groups, were, initially, a direct product of the CIA ‘laboratories’. Al Qaeda and CIA fought together a debilitating war against the Russian occupying forces in Afghanistan, and chased away the ex USSR from that country. In many respects, this first Afghan war and the Russian defeat in it, economically and politically weakened the USSR so much that practically caused the fall of the communist world. Putin, on many occasions, has made very bitter comments about the fall of the USSR.

Who fights the jihadists?

Moscow under Putin had to fight another destructive war, in Chechnya this time, once more against Sunni jihadists. Russia still to this day pays a heavy price from Sunni jihadist terrorist acts, which have claimed hundreds of Russian lives. The latest victim is the Russian ambassador to Turkey, who was the catalyst for Ankara abandoning her Sunni extremist proxies in the Syrian war. The result was the fall of Aleppo to the hands of the Shia Muslims of Bashar al Assad and Iran. It must be a revelation then for the Russian rulers that the US, with Trump, seems ready to really fight the Islamic State.

However, some logical questions arise here. One should take well into account the fact of the gradual retreat of the Jihadist butchers stance in both Syria and Iraq. Experts say that their end is now visible, at least under the current form of Islamic State. It must, then, be a bit awkward for the rest of the world to believe that the US will lift the sanctions and become ‘friends’ of Russia, just in return of Moscow’s ‘cooperation’ in the fight against ISIS.

Trump serves Putin and vice versa

No wonder then that the Russians are too eager to facilitate this change of policy of the White House. This week Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, an old Moscow fox, responsible for the reemergence of Russia as a world power, did his best to facilitate the rapprochement.  He stated that Russia is to return to the UN Geneva dialogue for a political settlement in Syria. Moscow had abandoned the UN road for peace in Syria, after the US under Obama bombarded the Assad forces the very next day of the peace agreement. So, Russia took her own way for a settlement in Syria by opening the Astana way. Moscow had difficulties but finally managed to convince Turkey and Iran to participate in the Astana Conference, which was a Russia controlled road for a ceasefire and a peace settlement in Syria. In this way, Moscow had left the UN and, in many ways, the US sponsored Geneva peace effort out in the cold.

The obvious target of this Astana initiative then was to leave the US and the West in general out of a final arrangement in Syria. Lavrov and Russia has practically succeeded in that. Last Sunday, however, Lavrov all of a sudden said that Russia will return to Geneva and the UN peace initiative under Staffan de Mistura, virtually abandoning the Astana road. Obviously, Russia now favors the participation of the US in Syria. What could Moscow have expected from a conference with Ankara and Tehran, if she can have Washington’s friendship in Geneva? So out go Turkey and Iran and in come the US as an interlocutor of Russia.

Favoring Trump

On the same occasion, Lavrov didn’t miss the opportunity to remind of Moscow’s generally positive attitude towards the new U.S. President Donald Trump. According to Reuters, he said that under the new US administration “the two countries were in a position to solve bilateral issues, improve ties and coordinate efforts to fight international terrorism, but only on the basis of mutual respect”. Judging from the fact that neither this condition of ‘mutual respect’ is that difficult to be met, both Washington and Moscow must have seemingly resolved the differences they had under the Obama administration.

But the question remains; what can be in Trump’s mind so big and important, that strongly binds together the two until recently fearsome adversaries in Syria and Ukraine? Only Rex Tillerson must know that well and surely what he knows best is about oil and gas. No?

 

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