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Putin on a recent trip to Israel

Russia in the Middle East: Return of a superpower?

Putin on a recent trip to Israel

The US “withdrawal” from Iraq last year and the planned “withdrawal” from Afghanistan in 2014 cannot help but change the face of Central Asia and the Middle East. But how does Russia fit in, asks Eric Walberg

The world is living through a veritable slow-motion earthquake. If things go according to plan, the US obsession with Afghanistan and Iraq will soon be one of those ugly historical disfigurements that — at least for most Americans — will disappear into the memory hole.

Like Nixon and Vietnam, US President Barack Obama will be remembered as the president who “brought the troops home”. But one cannot help but notice the careful calibration of these moves to fit the US domestic political machine — the Iraqi move to show Americans that things on the international front are improving (just don’t mention Guantanamo), the Afghan move put off conveniently till President Barack Obama’s second term, when he doesn’t need to worry about the fallout electorally if things unravel (which they surely will).

Of course, Russia lost big time geopolitically when the US invaded Afghanistan, and thus gains as regional geopolitical hegemon by the withdrawal of US troops from Central Asia. Just look at any map. But American tentacles will remain: Central Asia has no real alternative economically or politically anymore to the neoliberal global economy, as Russia no longer claims to represent a socialist alternative to imperialism. The departure of US troops and planes from remote Kyrgyzstan will not be missed — except for the hole it leaves in the already penurious Kyrgyz government’s budget and foreign currency reserves. Russia is a far weaker entity than the Soviet Union, both economically and politically. Thus, Russia’s gain from US weakness is not great.

Besides, both Russia and the US support the current Afghan government against the Taliban — as does Iran. In fact, in case US state department and pentagon officials haven’t noticed the obvious, the main beneficiary of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq has been Iran, again by definition. The invasion brought to power the ethnic Persian Tajiks in Afghanistan, and the invasion of Iraq set up a Shia-dominated government there.

Similarly, when the US invaded Iraq, Russia lost politically and economically. The US cancelled Sadam Hussein’s state debts, which hurt the Russians and Europeans but not the US. The US just happened to be boycotting Iraq for the previous decade and took pleasure from shafting its sometime allies for ignoring US wishes. However, once Iraqi politicians begin to reassert some control over their foreign policy, Russia will be seen as a much more sympathetic partner internationally.

Ironically, on many fronts, Iran now holds the key to readjusting the political playing field and establishing rules that can lead away from the deadly game being played by the US, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, with broader implications for broader nuclear disarmament, EU-US relations, but above all, for the continued role of the dollar as world reserve currency. This encourages Russia to maintain its alliance with Iran over vague (and empty) promises of US-Russian world hegemony as envisioned by the now-discredited Medvedev Atlantists in Moscow.

Russia’s relations with both Central Asia and the Middle East since the collapse of the Soviet Union have been low key. In the Middle East, it maintains relations with Palestine’s Hamas, and, as a member of the so-called quartet of Middle East negotiators (along with the EU, the US and the UN), insists that Israel freeze expansion of settlements in the Occupied Territories as a condition of further talks. It appears to be trying to regain some of the goodwill that existed between the Soviet Union and Arab states, supporting the UN Goldstone Report which accused Israel of war crimes in its 2008 invasion of Gaza.

It embarked on a diplomatic offensive with Arab states in 2008, offering Syria and Egypt nuclear power stations, and is re-establishing a military presence in the Mediterranean at the Syrian port, Tartus, though Syria’s current civil war, with Russia and Iran lined up against the West and the Arab states could leave Russia on the losing side. Western attempts to portray Russia as the power-hungry bad guy in Syria do not hold water. Russia is concerned about heightened civil war in an evenly divided population, with rebel groups openly armed by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s Arab and Western foes. The hypocrisy in the Arab world is appalling: Gulf monarchies and Saudi Arabia loudly demand that Egypt’s new government swear off any attempt to “interfere” in their internal politics, but brazenly arm Syrian rebels.

Russia is still struggling to leave its own tragic civil war in Chechnya behind, and to make sure there’s a place at the table for its Muslims. With its 16 million Muslims (about 12 per cent of the population), it has expressed interest in joining the Organization of Islamic Conference. Its unwillingness to let Syria slide into civil war does not gain it any brownie points among its own separatist Muslims in the Caucasus and elsewhere, but it is not willing to carve up either Syria or the Russian federation in the interests of some fleeting peace.

The importance of Jewish financial and economic interests in post-Soviet Russia — both the banking and industrial oligarchs and the Kosher Nostra mafia — ensures that Israel gets a sympathetic hearing from Russian leaders. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is a Russian Jew who emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1978.

Israel is also able to take advantage of the persistence of Muslim unrest and dreams of independence in the Caucasus within Russia to prevent Moscow from taking any strong position to pressure Israel. Russia’s prickly neighbor Georgia harbors Chechen rebels and Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, uses Israeli and US military advisers. Of course, the US benefits from Israeli pressures on Russia. This is a key feature of the current Great Game, where the US and Israel act as the new imperial “centre”.

It is popular to call this era a new Cold War. However, history never repeats itself. There certainly is a new tension in world politics following 9/11, and the failure of the newly aggressive US to successfully assert its hegemony around the world, including Russia, keeps the fires of chauvinism hot in the US. On the US right, Russia is seen merely as the Soviet Union reborn, a ruse to hide the KGB’s agenda of world communist control. For the saner Obamites, it is a more diffused Cold War, dominated by a new US-Israeli imperial centre, the “empire-and-a-half”, with shifting alliances of convenience, though with a strong, new opposition player on the horizon — a savvier, more articulate Islamic world, with Iran, Turkey and Egypt in the first rank.

The desire by both the US and Israel to overthrow the Iranian government is now the only common goal left in this “empire-and-a-half”, but it is a common goal only because Israel is in the driver’s seat. Israel resents Iran as an existential threat not to Israel itself, but to Greater Israel and regional domination. Iran serves as a powerful example, a third way for Muslim countries, and is most definitely a rival to Israel as Middle East hegemon.

Among the new Arab Spring governments, it is only Egypt’s that worries Israel. Just imagine if Egypt and Iran start to cooperate. Add in Shia-dominated Iraq, Turkey and Russia, as Russia has good relations with all four, and common objects on the international scene. Suddenly the Middle East playing field takes on a totally different appearance.

A rational US policy to join with Russia and China to accommodate Iran could save the teetering dollar, or at least give the US a chance to prepare for an orderly transition to a new international currency. If Russia, China and Iran defuse the current nuclear crisis between the US and Iran peacefully, with a nod to Turkey and a resolve to make Israel join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, this could pave the way for a new Eurasian playing field. If and when the US withdraws from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India will be drawn in as well.

This would set off a chain of events that could change the whole nature of the current Great Game leading to a Russia-India-Iran-China axis (Russia-India-China summits have already been held yearly since 2001), leaving Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Israel to sort out their regional conflicts outside of a new, very different great game. US interests would be considered but without US diktat, forcing, or rather allowing the US to put its own house in order. Iran would finally be accepted as the legitimate regional player that it is. If the US cannot bring itself to make a graceful exit from its self-imposed crisis in the region, this will only accelerate its decline.

Russia inherits fond memories across the Middle East region as the anti-Zionist Soviet Union’s successor. It now has the chance to gain long term credibility as a principled partner not only in the Middle East but to non-aligned countries everywhere, and should hold the fort, the anti-imperial one, against what’s left of empire.
Eric Walberg writes for and is author of Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games
You can reach him at

4 Responses to Russia in the Middle East: Return of a superpower?

  1. Ariadna Theokopoulos August 16, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    “A rational US policy to join with Russia and China to accommodate Iran could save the teetering dollar, or at least give the US a chance to prepare for an orderly transition to a new international currency. If Russia, China and Iran defuse the current nuclear crisis between the US and Iran peacefully, with a nod to Turkey and a resolve to make Israel join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, this could pave the way for a new Eurasian playing field.”

    This is a utopia predicated on the false assumption that the US is likely to act in the interests of the American people.e
    Exactly who? The zionist Congress that has more unanimity about Israel’s wishes than even the Knesset?– THAT USA?
    Or perhaps the State department? THIS State department:

  2. who_me August 16, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    a lot of food for thought in this piece.

    i think that as far as the poligarchy operates, countries are obsolete. i don’t think there is an american empire in that america, at this level isn’t america, but simply a tool being used by the rich to attain more control over the planet. by the rich i mean the combination of jp and oligarch capitalism, commonly referred to as the nwo, among other names.

    with that in mind, the idea that the usa is opposing russia, or in competition with the eu, is misleading. what is happening is this nwo is using their various tools to gain more power in the various entities named. like the recent financial meltdown was used by jp to consolidate more power in the financial sectors of the usa and europe, the competition between the usa and eu is a way to create weaknesses than can be used to gain control (by mostly jp, it seems here) in areas not yet fully under control.

    playing off the usa against russia serves a similar purpose. it’s unclear how much control jp, or the nwo in general, have in russia. their hold over the russian people is less than that in europe, and a hell of a lot less than in the usa. their control of the russian government doesn’t appear to be as strong as the rest of the capitalist west, either, but that may be a deception those government people are playing in order to keep the russian people finding out and reacting. that the russian government goes out of its way not to offend jp/israel is a sign jp has a much stronger hold there than one would suppose looking at the surface level. but it could also be deceptive chess moves that mask a hidden strategy. this makes trying to decipher russian moves with regard to jp much more uncertain.

    i think the ultimate target of this nwo strategy is china. they don’t have a hold of china, and china is the only independent economic power capable of surpassing nwo clout. maintaining a very distant hold on russia might be a strategy to get control of china if they use russia to get to china. this might explain why russia is allowed some independence of jp/nwo shackles that europe and the usa are not. if russia is indeed a colony of these parasites.

  3. Blake August 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    It is clear who the aggressor is here.

    In today’s “The Sun” (or the scum) has this war mongering rhetoric:
    Israel set to blitz Iran nuke plants:
    Middle East war fear as ground attack ‘on way’:
    ISRAEL is preparing for a ground attack on Iran before Christmas after commando dry runs in the Iraq desert, British spies have warned.

    Generals in Tel Aviv believe they have until the end of the year to strike at Iran’s nuclear programme.

    An assault would spark chaos across the Middle East, plunging the delicate region back into a full-blown war.

    Israeli leaders made it clear this week they are ready to launch military action alone to stop Tehran, led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, getting the bomb if the US doesn’t.

    Late October or early November have been identified by intelligence analysts as a likely time because of the US elections on November 6. President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney will fear condemning any Israeli action for fear of losing the huge Jewish vote.

    A senior Whitehall source said: “We know the Israelis have been active in the Iraq desert, it would appear preparing forward bases for a ground assault.

    “Bombing Iranian nuclear installations will most likely be a part of their plan, but the only way to confirm they have destroyed what they need to is to put boots on the ground.

    “It is a very big concern. Iran would have to retaliate, putting the region into an extremely dangerous situation.”

    The main target would be a heavily fortified uranium enrichment plant at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom.

    An Israeli strike would also spark a crisis within the Coalition Government here. Britain’s decision on whether to support or condemn Tel Aviv would split the Tories and Lib Dems.

    An interview with an anonymous senior Israeli politician this week — widely believed to be defence minister Ehud Barak — made it clear Israel had already decided to act alone.

    The minister said: “We can’t wait to find out one morning that we relied on the Americans but were fooled because the Americans didn’t act. Israel is strong and Israel is responsible, and will do what it has to do.”

    Read more:

  4. who_me August 17, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    “Syria is much more the pretext than the actual issue being discussed, because what is at issue right now is whether the U.S. and its allies can arbitrarily violate international law, whether they can subvert the concepts of the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of states, whether somebody sitting in the State Department can determine who has to step down as head of state and who is going to replace him. And the U.S. has done this on a least four occasions since early last year. I’m talking about Ivory Coast, Libya, Yemen and now Syria. And there is every reason to believe that if they are successful in Syria, then they would move on to the next countries. And I would suggest that the twelve countries that voted against the resolution on Friday are exactly the twelve countries that are going to be targeted.

    Can you list those countries for our listeners?

    Yes. The twelve countries that voted against the resolution are Russia, China, Syria, Iran, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Myanmar, Nicaragua, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

    And you think all those countries are on a hit list for regime change?

    Each except for Myanmar decidedly are. And I’m a bit surprised that the former Burma, Myanmar, voted against the resolution as it had not voted against the resolution in February.

    Why do you think they did this?

    I have no idea. I would have thought that since Hillary Clinton’s visit to Myanmar last November that she had pretty much shifted Myanmar away from China and towards the United States. So, frankly I have no explanation for why they voted against the resolution unless they sensed something. If you’d asked me a year ago it would have been self-evident why Myanmar voted against it, because it itself was targeted for regime change at the time.

    Somebody has them on the checklist and I think it’s important that they not be able to make checks in each box. And if developments in Syria, that is Western and allied efforts to overthrow the government in Syria, are thwarted with the continued opposition of Russia and China in the first place, then I don’t think we have to worry about the other eleven nations, because of course Syria is one of them. But should they be successful in Syria, then I think the remaining eleven nations are likely targets.”

    with israel/jp at the head of these regime change ops, why is russia still on friendly terms with israel? especially given that jp is the head behind both the “muslim” terrorism in russia and is also responsible (through the jewish mafia, hq’d in israel) for the deadly heroin addiction in russia.