Monday, 14 March 2016

'I wonder what he meant by that?' - Putin exits stage left

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'I wonder what he meant by that?', Talleyrand asked about the death of a Turkish ambassador. Vladimir Putin's decision to leave Syria will lead some to ask the same question. 

I am not sure his reasons for getting out are mysterious, though. He has achieved what he wanted to achieve, changed the balance of power and secured the Syrian government's position. Before Russia intervened there was talk that the Saudis would have the strength
to defeat Assad. 

I had assumed that he would want to make an exit quickly and this is a good moment. He has the satisfaction of making another one of his great theatrical gestures and getting out while the going is good. People widely expected him to be bogged down like the Russians were in Afghanistan or the Americans in Iraq and Vietnam. Instead he won a decisive victory for his ally Assad and he leaves without so far incurring the anger, as far as we can see, of the Muslim street. By leaving he is acquitted of the charge of invading a Muslim country. And he appears in the eyes of all Middle Eastern leaders as a man who expends blood and treasure on behalf of his allies. This compares with the way the USA treated many of its allies, from the Shah to Mubarak.

George H.W. Bush, before his son's 2003 invasion, said, 'But what is his exit strategy?' Vladimir Putin is making the conspicuous point that, very unlike the only superpower, he has one. As all along, he is giving the USA and the world a masterclass in foreign policy. It's partly because he is a great tactician, is streetwise, and partly because Barack Obama is not really interested in great power politics. Mr. Obama went into politics to change domestic policy. He cares more, quixotically, about climate change than the Middle East.

I am sorry that Vladimir Putin did not get rid of the Assad family or force the Syrian government to accept a peace. The word is that he has offered Assad asylum in Moscow but, if this is true, I am sure Assad will not take up the offer. Turkey is now free to intervene in Syria without fearing her planes being shot down by Russians, avid to revenge the plane the Turks downed. This is bad news too, especially for the Kurds. I had hoped Putin might have persuaded Assad to permit the Kurds an autonomous region along the Turkish border, in return for helping defeat ISIS. Erdogan will not be forced to accept that, once Russia has pulled out.

And ISIS is still there, largely unconfronted. I had expected Russia and Assad to attack ISIS but Putin, deciding discretion is the better part of valour, has left that task to Assad, Obama and the rebels. None of them want to - nor do the Turks, the Iranians or the Saudis. I wonder if anyone will act against ISIS.

8 comments:

  1. what he wanted to achieve was clearly stated by the US Ambassador to the UN: to distract the world from Ukraine

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  2. Don’t trust him till the last Russian has verifiably gone! Andrew

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    1. He’ll retain air control over the coastal Alawi region, which he didn’t have till last year.
      I am more worried by the Turks.

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  3. Just for a change , me too. Russia was not going to ever get into or afford a mission creep and Assad's outbursts last week prompted Putin, ever the pragmatist's exit stage left. However Turkey is now feeling beleaguered all along it's southern and eastern borders, facing internal dissent and finger wagging from Europe, from what was ten years ago a beacon of a secular Islamic state , it is now verging into a descent towards Lebanon a la 1980 at this stage it is quite hard to see what will stop the inevitable readjustments in Syria spilling over. I would like to see peace for the Syrian people , but I think there will be a fair amount of bloodshed yet. Obama may well have sat this one out, I am not sure the next incumbent of the Oval Office will be able to watch a NATO partner with supposed EU aspirations slide into the same chaos as did the line of countries adjacent. In the meantime we had better start contingency planning for the camps to house Turkish refugees...

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    1. I cannot see what will stop the Turks intervening once the Russians have left, unless it is threats from Russia who can still bring down Turkish planes from their Khmeimim airbase. The Saudis will also very possibly, even probably intervene, to fight Assad and a proxy war with Iran.

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  4. now the muslims are bombing Berlin that should teach the sacred cow Merkle a lesson

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  5. Can we all at least agree that Putin will now expect to be nominated for a Nobel peace prize?

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    1. He would be an even worse candidate than Angela Merkel. It is too early to see if Russia's intervention has brought peace in Syria nearer or not. I am less hopeful than before he announced his exit.

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