On Friday in an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that sending ground troops to Syria could lead to another world war. Such strong personalities as Putin and Erdogan, probably, could generate it, although in the long run potential escalation should be wary of other players.
Atlantico: What are the hegemonic actions and ambitions of Putin and Erdogan pose a threat to the global “order”?
Roland Lombardi (Roland Lombardi): Although the majority of Western media and a number of “human rights” ideologists completely divorced from reality periodically call Putin’s Russia a threat to world security, I think it’s worth restoring certain truths. In the Syrian crisis, the game of Moscow is clear and consistent. Recall, once again, that Russian intervention in Syria is aimed at performing three tasks: restoring the status of a regional or even world power with a key role in resolving conflicts (in parallel, this also includes demonstrating the illogical behavior of the West); support of the Assad regime in order to become the only stronghold on the way of Al-Qaida and the Islamic State; active and widespread struggle against political and radical Islamism, which poses a threat to Russian territory (20 of millions of Muslims live in the country).
How do these goals pose a threat to the West? On the contrary, you need to be a complete idiot or blind to not notice that when Russia defends its interests in the Middle East, it simultaneously protects the interests of Europe and France.
Do I have to say that the terrorists who hit France in 2015, did not act on the orders of Moscow? Or remind that it is not Russia that finances and supports the imams-Salafis or immigrants from the Muslim Brotherhood (in Russia both of these movements, by the way, are prohibited), who preach aggression and hatred of our country in some French mosques? Our diplomacy, especially judging by the latest statements by Fabius before retirement, forgot too quickly that Russia was the first to support our intervention in Mali in 2013. And who offered us cooperation when we sent the fleet and aircraft to the Eastern Mediterranean in response to the November terrorist attacks? Russia again! Russia is a European power, it does not in any way threaten our interests. The Russians are our allies, and they demand nothing more. We face the same threats, overcome some obstacles. Together we could do a lot more.
Finally, do not be deceived: at the moment, the only threat to the world order comes from our Turkish and Saudi "allies." The very people whose double play with terrorist and Islamist groups is now on public display. Those who wanted to plant the Salafi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Damascus and all Arab capitals on the wave of the Arab Spring ...
Cyrille Bret: I would not say that they actually have some hegemonic ambitions. Despite the currently adopted strategy, the Russian Federation is more likely to adhere to defensive positions. She seeks to defend what else remains of her from the former zone of influence. In particular, this concerns Syria with a base in Tartus, an alliance with Assad, the restoration of the Shiite axis, which includes Syria and Iran, the traditional markets weapons since Xnumx's. It seems to me that this is not about hegemonic ambitions, but about the desire to protect the remnants of the former brilliance of the two great non-Arab powers of the Middle East. The similarity concerns the rigidity of defensive positions.
As for the risks and threats to the world, I would say that they are very symmetrical.
On the part of Turkey, the risk lies in enhancing the religious nature of international relations in the Middle East, since the Justice and Development Party since its coming to power expands ties with the Sunnis (this was evident in Syria).
On the part of Russia, the risk of intervention in Syria implies the potential impossibility of a political settlement as a result of attacks on both the Islamist and non-Islamist opposition ...
- Putin is credited with the desire to restore the borders of the USSR ...
Cyril Bret: This is a rhetorical and ideological motive that slipped in the statements of Putin himself, the book of Michel Eltchaninoff, etc. But this is only an ideological discourse divorced from reality. In fact, Russia is not in a position to claim a certain imperial future in the foreseeable future. Its economy is greatly undermined by a number of external and internal factors.
- Erdogan and Putin - this is the sultan and king of the modern era? What indicates their inflated ego (and potential danger)?
Roland Lombardi: As the historian Jean-Baptiste Duroselle perfectly demonstrated (Jean-Baptiste Duroselle), the psychological profile of heads of state is of great importance in international relations. In addition, a politician or statesman without a bloated ego is a very rare case ...
Putin and Erdogan are charismatic and strong personalities, powerful and confident people. At the same time, both of them are characterized by great realism and pragmatism. The problem is that if the president of Russia could really be called a new king due to the diplomatic successes and the return of his country to the first roles in the international arena, you cannot say the same about Erdogan. If he dreamed of becoming a new sultan, his idea failed. All the hegemonic projects of the Turkish president in the region are crumbling. He found himself isolated in regional politics (particularly in the Syrian issue) and enjoys the support of Saudi Arabia alone. From here follows a certain frustration and, indeed, a potential danger in its decisions ...
Cyrille Bret: This is a serious simplification. The Economist has been behaving like this for more than a year now: they are regularly called the Sultan and the King on editorials. But their positions are very different for the reasons I mentioned above.
As for personal qualities and bloated ego, this was fully confirmed for Erdogan over the past decade and a half, as well as for Vladimir Putin. Both of them identify themselves with the state and are for most of the public a symbol of the restoration of the political power of their countries. The extraordinary personalization of their political projects (especially for Erdogan) leads to the fact that they actually begin to show imperial features.
This is their strength (they inspire their personality, cause a wave of enthusiasm), but at the same time weakness. For example, during the incident in Turkish airspace a little over a month ago, this is what made dialogue impossible. That is, a leader who is so eager to personalize power and international strategy is a double-edged sword for the country.
- How does Turkey use migrants to put pressure on Europe and the world, thereby inclining the balance of forces in its favor?
Roland Lombardi: Simply put, Turkey is now accepting two million refugees on its territory (mainly Syrians) and threatens to open the way to Europe if it does not receive financial aid from Brussels (it has already been allocated three billion euros) and diplomatic support in the Syrian issue.
- Doesn't such internationalization of the conflict resemble the 1930-s civil war in Spain? And does Syria look like the instability of the Balkans at the beginning of the 20th century?
Cyril Bret: Christopher Clark's book "Somnambula" (Christopher Clark, Les somnambules) tells about the rival hegemonic projects in the Balkans before the outbreak of the First World War. This analysis has greatly changed our perception of conflict. According to Clark, the cause of the war was the irresponsibility of the Russian imperial project.
Now the alignment is completely different, because the two protagonists you mentioned, and also Saudi Arabia and Iran, do not adhere to the dynamics of the ideological confrontation between the two main types of power: the republican anticlerical Spanish democracy and expansionist totalitarianism. In other words, it does not seem to me that the Balkans and the Spanish Civil War have much in common with the Syrian conflict.
I think the conflict in Syria should be considered as a consequence of the collapse of the state that no longer exists today. This gives impetus to the development strategies and the protection of territorial interests, which geographically and economically revolve around the power of Assad. That is why they are now talking about the prospect of dividing Syria, although this was not considered as a decision either in Spain or in the Balkans.
- What can be said about the forced militarization of Russia? Can Russia and Turkey provoke the Third World War?
Cyril Bret: In 2008, Vladimir Putin spoke in the Duma about the need to increase military credits. Since 2009, the defense budget has been significantly increased, exceeding the mark in 4% of GDP. Army staff amounted to 800 - 850 thousand people. This is a new wave of modernization of the Russian armed forces, which was an attempt to catch up after the neglect of the first post-Soviet years.
As for World War I, I would again like to return to the comparison with Clark. It seems to me that the cause of a world conflict could be the clash of two or three imperial expansionism in a strategic region. In Syria, nothing of the kind is out of the question. Saudi Arabia and Iran are playing the leading roles there more likely: they set the tone, have the most accurate and decisive plans in the region.
Again, Russia and Turkey are defending geographically and militarily limited interests. For Russia, everything is simple: it seeks to preserve the client, that is, the Assad clan, whose stronghold is Latakia (northeast of the country). Turkey adheres to a strategy of influence, which is directed against the restoration of the Shiite axis. That is, although these countries attract the most attention to themselves, they do not set the tone. Their leaders are very well known, loud statements are peculiar to them. It is difficult to imagine Hassan Rouhani or Crown Prince Muhammad ibn Salman (occupies the second step in the succession) as military leaders who are conducting an active information and political campaign.
Roland Lombardi: It is foolish to assume that Russia wants to start the Third World War. Despite considerable ambitions about his country, Putin has established himself as an excellent tactician and subtle strategist who knows how to take advantage of the weaknesses and hesitations of his opponents. He is a true statesman who maintains calm and composure in all situations, including many of the crises that have befallen his country. Like it or not, in Syria, Russia offers the most serious and rational decision that meets the common interests.
The Russian president secured not only military assistance from Iran and diplomatic assistance from China, but also support from Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and even Israel. The Kurds are also increasingly oriented towards Moscow. The positions of America, despite a series of ostentatious statements, are changing ...
Be that as it may, Washington has long sought to overthrow Assad. The Americans supported the rebels and gradually increased pressure in the negotiations at the UN. However, this project is now in doubt: the impressive offensive of Aleppo (and throughout the country) by the Syrian government, Hezbollah and Iranian special forces with the support of the Russian aviation forced the US to reconsider its position on the Syrian crisis (these changes are noticeable both in public opinion, and among strategists and Pentagon generals).
In addition, it is less than a year before Obama’s term ends, and it’s hard for me to imagine that he will start an open conflict with Russia for the sake of Arabians and Turks.
At the same time, the tension between Turkey and Russia in Syria reached an unprecedented level. As I noted earlier, Ankara and Riyadh are in this issue more and more isolated (even Qatar left the game). They lose a lot. Especially Turkey. That is why the Turks in a panic attack thoughtlessly threaten intervention in Syria (with the support of Arabians). And not for strikes on IS, but for the sake of saving their proteges and shelling the Kurds (and they are for us brave and valuable allies against the "Islamic State"). In addition, by blocking the current talks, they, paradoxically, give Russia extra time to bombard all indiscriminately opponents of Assad. Turks experience anger and frustration, they get the feeling that the Americans abandoned them. Therefore, they can do unpredictable. The main danger is that Erdogan will give the army an order to cross the Syrian border. Thus, it will violate international law, because it will operate without the mandate of the UN Security Council (Russia and China, no doubt, will use the veto). He is counting on escalation and a mistake on the part of Russia to take advantage of Article Five, which would oblige NATO to come to his aid. And it would have turned into a disaster. It is worth waiting for new provocations, similar to the Russian bomber shot down last year. It remains to hope that the Russians will not fall into another trap and will again be able to keep cool. It would be good, and if the Americans somehow forced the anxious "ally" to come to their senses ...
Cyril Bree is a lecturer at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, author of the Eurasia Prospective blog.
Roland Lombardi is an independent consultant and analyst at JFC-Conseil. Specialist in International Relations, the Maghreb and the Middle East.