Medvedev Consolidates Russian Influence in Turkey & Syria

While US led West is getting scalded by the economic and financial volcano unleashed by unregulated and rampant greed of its corporate oligarchy, which is still holding Washington to ransom, Russia, imperceptibly, with support from its former republics and China has blocked and rebuffed US incursions into Moscow’s near abroad. In 2008 Russia thrashed Georgia, when its puppet ruler instigated by US and Israel with a hysterical David Milliband mouthing Western media and BBC lies, attacked disputed South Ossetia. It sent a stern message around the Caucasus, making even Azerbaijan’s leader rethink its close embrace with Washington, and beyond.

Russia then eased out discredited US proxy president Victor Yushchenko in Ukraine and the so called ‘Orange Revolution’ heroine prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko with pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovich back in power. It was followed by cementing of Russian-Ukrainian strategic partnership with a long lease on the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol for the Russian Black Sea fleet in exchange for discounted Russian gas, and other agreements including renewal of joint aircraft manufacture. The recent rounds of violence and still simmering tensions in Kyrgyz capital Bishkek and elsewhere could lend to constraints on Washington’s use of its Manas airfield, from where bulk of US troops and sophisticated military equipment for war in Afghanistan are trans-shipped. This gives Kabul’s northern neighbours a say in its affairs.

Moscow has now re-focused its attention on the Middle East, an arena of Cold War rivalry and conflict between the US led capitalist West and USSR and its communist, socialist and nationalist allies since WWII, from where Russian influence vanished following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Fall of the Berlin Wall,with Iraq and Syria left adrift without a protector. It resulted in US led illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its brutal occupation. Syria’s strategic relations with Iran and patch up with Turkey helped Damascus withstand intense Western pressures. Allies Hezbollah in Lebanon gave a bloody nose to the ‘invincible’ Israeli Defense Forces in south, as admitted even in a Israeli report on the outcome of the 2006 war with Lebanon. It is a deterrent to Israel. Caught in a quagmire of is own making in Iraq and in the harsh realities in the hills and valleys of Afghanistan, a grave yard of empires, US and its allies are now in a bind.

In spite of immense power of destruction still at its command and the bluster, West’s limitations of military power have been exposed in the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia, now led in tandem by prime minister Vladimir Putin, a Karate champ and his handpicked soft spoken successor president Dimitry Medvedev, have brought about far reaching changes in Russian policies, not only in Eurasia and the Middle East but even in Latin America, once Washington’s backyard under Monroe Doctrine.

Remember how after a meeting in June 2001, George Bush said patronizingly of Vladimir Putin, "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country." Putin could hardly keep a straight face as Bush described him as "trustworthy" and "straightforward." How the strategic parameters have been turned around since then.

The Russian bear first growled at the 43rd annual International Security Conference held in Munich on 10 February, 2007 when president Putin spoke about the importance of the role of United Nations, U.S. missile defense, NATO expansion to Russian borders, Iran's nuclear program and the Energy Charter and accused Washington of provoking a new nuclear arms race by developing ballistic missile defenses, undermining international institutions, trying to divide modern Europe and making the Middle East more unstable through its clumsy handling of the Iraq war.

The Soviet Union's collapse was ruthlessly exploited by US led West when its capitalist controlled media sang praises of economic reforms and democratization, which under Yeltsin brought about economic disintegration and ruination to Russia. The worst kind of depression in modern history with economic losses more than twice those suffered by USSR in World War II. Russian GDP was trimmed to half and capital investment fell by 80 percent. People were reduced to penury and misery, death rates soared (by an extra one million) so the population shrank. And in August 1998, the Russian financial system collapsed. Under the charade of globalization and ushering in capitalism in Russia, as much as a trillion dollars of Russian wealth was reportedly taken out and seven oligarchs created, six of them Jews.

Stephen F. Cohen in an article "The New American Cold War" wrote in 10 July 2006 issue of US Magazine , "The Nation" that since 1990s, Washington has followed hypocritical policy of "strategic partnership and friendship," with Presidents being on first name basis but underneath, all US administrations have followed a ruthless policy of undermining Russia" accompanied by broken American promises, condescending lectures and demands for unilateral concessions. USA has been even more aggressive and uncompromising than was Washington's approach to the Soviet Communist Russia."

"A growing military encirclement of Russia, on and near its borders, by US and NATO bases, which are already ensconced or being planned in at least half the fourteen other former Soviet republics, from the Baltics and Ukraine to Georgia, Azerbaijan and the new states of Central Asia. The result is a US-built reverse iron curtain and the remilitarization of American-Russian relations.

"A tacit (and closely related) US denial that Russia has any legitimate national interests outside its own territory, even in ethnically akin or contiguous former republics such as Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia." Richard Holbrooke, a democrat Secretary of State in waiting roundly condemned Russia for promoting a pro-Moscow government in neighboring Ukraine, where Russia has centuries of shared linguistic, marital, religious, economic and security ties and declared that far-away Slav nation part of "our core zone of security."

"Even more, a presumption that Russia does not have full sovereignty within its own borders, as expressed by constant US interventions in Moscow's internal affairs since 1992. They have included an on-site crusade by swarms of American "advisers," particularly during the 1990s, to direct Russia's "transition" from Communism; endless missionary sermons from afar, often couched in threats, on how that nation should and should not organize its political and economic systems; and active support for Russian anti-Kremlin groups, some associated with hated Yeltsin-era oligarchs.

After Munich speech, Putin made a whirlwind tour of the Middle East where the Arab states, chastened , battered and frightened by irrational US policies, welcomed him. His visits included Saudi Arabia, a first for a Russian president, Qatar, sitting atop massive reserves of gas, Jordan, a key strategic stone in the middle east matrix, even for Israel. US blunders and Russian policy got Moscow observer status in the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 2005. In 2006 the Russia-Muslim World Strategic Vision Group was established. Exchange of presidential visits with Syria in 2005, writing off of old Syrian debts of almost $10 billion and supply of short range missiles to deter arrogant Israeli jets buzzing the presidential palace in Damascus almost restored the relationship of Cold War era with Syria.

Economic cooperation with Europe
for industrial modernization!

However with American eagle’s wings singed, Russian leaders need not growl. They are coming out as sober, responsible and constructive interlocutors.

To allay Washington’s suspicions , Moscow convinienetly ‘leaked’ a confidential policy document from foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to president Medvedev outlining proposals for a more pragmatic foreign policy to build closer ties with the U.S. and Europe to help modernize its outdated industries. The authenticity of the document was confirmed. But a Kremlin spokesman said it was not yet officially approved. Russian Newsweek posted the document's full text on its website. "It's a document that reflects the mainstream in today's Russian political leadership," said Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Though the document reiterates Russian opposition to U.S. policy to maintain global hegemony, it patronizingly singled out the Obama administration for its "transformational potential" to stabilise and improve relations with Moscow, by giving up the missile-defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic and staunch support for anti-Russian leaders in Georgia, and in Ukraine. The document also gives an idea about Moscow’s relationship with former Soviet republics and recommends that taking advantage of the global financial crisis, Moscow should acquire industrial and energy assets in the Baltics, Belarus, Ukraine and Central Asia—where Russian influence is a somewhat ambiguous and sensitive political issue.

A deal with the U.S. to reduce nuclear weapons has already been implemented. But the document names Iran as a potential flash point for renewed conflict with the West, in the event of a military strike against Iranian nuclear fuel facilities, which Moscow strongly opposes. Moscow is playing the great power game and has delayed completing the neclear power station in Iran. There is little news about the delivery of long promised Sam-300 missiles which would deter bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Moscow extracts whatever concession it can from Washington and keeps Tehran on leash.

The document calls for creating "alliances of modernization" with European countries to attract needed technology and “ find opportunities to use American technological potential." It singled out Germany, France, Italy and Spain as Russia's closest partners in Europe. [To neutralise US domination of Europe since WWII ,German leadership has been most enthusiastic to normalise and improve relation with Moscow and has many economic proposals including the ongoing project of Russian gas for Germany via a Baltic Sea pipeline, now headed by a former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, Angela Merkel’s predecessor.]

The ‘new spirit’ was reflected when U.S. and European troops for the first time marched alongside Russian forces during Moscow's annual military parade marking the end of World War II in which US, UK, France and USSR were allies. Russia made the maximum sacrifice in men and treasure and the country suffered terrribly while destroying three-fourth of the Nazi war Machine. With US releuctant to expend men and treasure and open a front in Greece, Soviet forces reached Berlin. US and UK films have exagerated beyond measure their role in the defeat of Nazi Germany though Hollywood films, which are regularly telecast as part of propaganda in Discovery, History and other channels which many specially India’s ignoranti lap up.

"The overall climate is better than it has been since the time of Perestroika," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, a foreign-policy analyst and frequent Kremlin adviser. "Russia has started to react to the more cooperative policy from the West." He and other analysts feel that the Kremlin's new approach carries some risks, as Moscow reasserts its influence in its near abroad. Medvedev's focus is on weaning Russia's economy from its dependence on oil and other natural resources and stimulating high-technology industries mandated the Westward focus. "The sources of modernization and innovation are in the West, not the East," he said. While the document covers China and other major developing countries, the focus is on ties with the U.S. and Europe. The report also suggests reduction in military buildup [If US military-industry complex would let it!]

Medvedev visits Turkey and Syria

Russian Turkish Relations; A Historical Perspective

The relations between Turks and Russians have been tortuous and mostly adversarial throughout history from the days of Mongol –Turks and Russian warfare and rivalries reaching acuity during the half a millennia long Ottoman empire and the expanding Russian empire at Istanbul’s cost in the Caucasus, Crimea and East Europe till WWI, when whatever was left of the Ottoman empire, which once extended from Morocco to Oman, from Crimea to Sudan and from Hungary to the Iranian border was divided up by the European powers after the defeat of the Ottoman arms. Post Bolshevik revolution at the end of WWI, Moscow extended support to Kemal Ataturk's new republic in Ankara which was welcomed as long as Communist ideology did not infiltrate nationalist and secular Turkey. Communist party has remained banned in Turkey.

Before his death in 1938, with war clouds on the horizon, Ataturk advised his would be successors to keep out of the WWII, so as not to be first run over by the Nazis and then ‘liberated’ by the Soviet forces. But after the war, during which Turkey remained neutral, USSR, leader of victorious coalition in Eurasia against the Axis powers led by Germany demanded return of two Turkish provinces Kars and Ertvin in North West of Turkey which were once part of Czarist Russia and role in overseeing the Straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles, controlling access to the Black Sea and notionally separating Asia and Europe. Ankara looked around for a protector and found one in Washington in the wake of the burgeoning Cold War. It joined NATO and other Western pacts. But throughout that era till the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ankara never felt comfortable with US policies specially in regard to Greece and Cyprus where 18% of population is of Turkish origin.

After the war, Turkey also found itself surrounded by hostile neighbours, not only Communist Bulgaria in the West and in the North East, Soviet republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and a Black Sea full of hostile naval ships. In the East, Ankara still faced another historical enemy of the Sunni Ottomans, the Shia Iran, both now successors of geopolitical rivals in history of Romans –Byzantines and Persians. Relations with Damascus were strained ever since Syria was carved out of former Ottoman Vilayat (provinces) and acquiescence of Western powers to let Ankara annex Alwaite dominated sub province of Hatay -Antakya, the ancient Antioch, to tempt Turkey to side with the Western powers in WWII. Since then building of dams and barrages on Euphrates and even on Tigris with strategic and economic ramifications made the relations even more inimical.

Damascus responded by sheltering Marxist Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan and letting him operate guerilla training camps in Syria and Lebanese territory under its influence. The rebellion cost Turkey nearly 40.000 lives mostly Kurds and destruction of economy of Kurdish populated East and South East Turkey bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran. Ocalan was apprehended by Turkish agents, helped by Western agencies in 1999 in Kenya after he was expelled when Turkey threatened war on Syria, now without Moscow’s umbrella. Ocalan was tried, convicted and is now imprisoned on a Marmara Sea island near Istanbul.

Relations with Greece have been complex and adversarial like India and Pakistan since the emergence of Turkey from the ashes of the Ottoman empire after Ataturk had beaten back Greek forces from 60 kms west of Ankara in 1922 and exchange of Christian and Muslim populations, made worse by the dispute over Cyprus, now partly under Turkish occupation since 1974 and various border and other disputes. Only with Iraq, Turkey had good relations. Ankara implemented an adroitly successful policy as a NATO ally, serving as an unsinkable aircraft career with over half a million armed men. But it felt somewhat neglected after the collapse of USSR as Washington found new allies in East Europe, Georgia and even Azerbaijan to roll back and throttle the Russian Federation.

But the US led 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq and occupation which has led to the death of over a million Iraqis, with whom Turks always had very good relations and emergence of an autonomous Kurdish state in north Iraq, as a magnet to its own Kurds in south and east Turkey has changed the strategic matrix completely in the region not only for Turkey but also for its neighbours.

Yes, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, with buffer states between historical enemies Russians and Turks and even between Tehran and Moscow, Turkey and Iran have now different compulsions and options, which they are implementing.

The main question is –what will happen when US withdraws from Iraq leaving behind a whole new gamut of problems.

A fractured and divided Iraq along Shia and or Sunni Arabs and Kurds lines, with a strengthened Iran, with Shias ruling in Baghdad and with full control of south Iraq. What of ramifications in the autonomous North Kurdish Iraq, under US protection since 1991, with ‘let us try once more for a Kurdish state by turbulent and new generation Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria? What about reactions, counter reactions and policies of Iraq’s Sunni neighbours like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and even Egypt. And what about Israel! By the invasion a veritable Pandora’s box has been opened, with borders created after WWI likely to come under stresses and strains.

Strategic and Political Changes in the Region

Russian president Medvedev’s two days visit to Ankara in May is third ever head of state visit from Moscow. His predecessor and benefactor Putin was in Turkey in early September, 2004. The first ever visit took place at the peak of the Cold War by the Soviet Union's president Nikolay Podgorny in 1973, almost 4 decades ago, when the author was first posted at Ankara. The invitation was to express anger at Washington's warnings that Ankara not use US arms in its dispute over Cyprus with Greece, also a NATO member. Frequent exchanges now at the highest level and signing of several economic and strategic agreements underscore the reshuffling of strategic perceptions and partnerships being forged by major players in the region after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11 and illegal invasion on Iraq and the so called war on terror in Afghanistan. And possible withdrawal of US troops!

March 2003 was a watershed in US-Turkish relations when the Turkish parliament rejected an AKP government motion (which had a two-thirds majority) to allow troops of its ally the US to open a second front against north Iraq from Turkish soil. It led to much heated and bitter public exchanges and acrimony between the leaders of the two countries. It was followed by war of words when US imprisoned some Turkish special troops in Iraq and an US attack on Turcomen, Turkey’s ethnic cousins in Iraq, who also sit atop a sea of oil in Kirkuk, on which Ankara has sometimes laid claims on behalf of the Turcomen. And thus began a fairly fast decline in trust and overall relations. Then there are heated exchanges regarding PKK cadre holed up in North Iraq Kurdish areas, about which US has done little in spite of promises. Ankara and even Kurdish freedom organizations in Europe believe it is only a US card against Turkey .

But aware of the geopolitical importance of Turkey in the region and its military strength Washington has regularly sent senior officials to amend and ameliorate tense relations. Both president Bush and Obama have visited Ankara. It has been suggested that US might need Ankara’s goodwill if US withdrawal becomes difficult via Basra and Kuwait, then the route up via South East Turkey could be considered. Withdrawals can never be well organized. Remember the US forces from Vietnam, with people hanging by helicopters or even from Russia’s near abroad after USSR collapsed.

Since 2003 Turkish and Iranian leaders have also exchanged visits at the highest level and intensified efforts to put aside deep-rooted historical and ideological differences, because of instability interjected in the region, whose next stage or evolution unnerves every one. They exchange information on Kurdish rebels which worries them both and even take action in tandem.

US-Iran Turbulent Nuclear Tango

Since quite some time Turkish PM Recep Tayep Erdogan has pooh-poohed US led allegations about Iran’s nuclear program. Now under a deal, brokered on 18 May along with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Iran will ship 1,200 kilograms from its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey by the end of June in exchange for 120kg of 20% enriched uranium that is to be used at the Tehran Research Reactor to produce medical isotopes.

Wall Street Journal editorial described it as a "debacle" for US President Barack Obama's diplomacy. 'There are a number of unanswered questions regarding the announcement coming from Tehran,' declared US secretary of state Hilary Clinton. While Washington will pursue the UNSC sanctions for which agreement has been claimed, but first the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, has to consider details of the agreement that opens up an alternative route to sanctions. Both Turkey and Brazil are elected members of the UN Security Council and the non-aligned members generally support Tehran.
Ankara is now following a policy designed by foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu of "zero problems with neighbors," "pro-active engagement," or "multi-lateral foreign policy". The policy of “Look East”, was initiated in 1995 by the first Islamist coalition prime minister Nacemettin Erbakan, who brought into politics both Erdogan and president Abdullah Gul in early 1990s. Ankara has now assiduously cultivated and improved its relations with its Muslim neighbours, with whom it had acrimonious relations except for Iraq. Under pressure and threats of further sanctions from the West, Syria put in cold storage its historic dispute over sharing of Euphrates waters with Ankara and other problems. After exchange of presidential visits Turkish Syrian relations have taken a 180 deg turn, beginning a new era of friendship with mutual benefits.

Along with closer relations with Muslim countries in east and south, Ankara’s almost ally like relations with Tel Aviv have deteriorated with public brawls between Turkish and Israeli leaders. Erdogan and other leaders have publicly accused Israel of state terrorism in Gaza, while Israeli foreign minister publicly humiliated Turkish ambassador in Tel Aviv. Ankara feels that it no longer needs Tel Aviv. With leftist organizations in middle east, except PKK, having declined if not disappeared, Ankara needs no intelligence inputs from Tel Aviv. Let us see how Ankara manages to fill in gaps of its military equipment obtained from US and Israel and up-gradation by Israel. It is Tel Aviv, with its hemmed in small area which has lost its only friend in the region with whom it used to hold regular military exercises, specially air maneuvers, which have now been suspended.
Wafted from the East and West, and sensitive to cross currents, Ankara has got together with Moscow sensing the looming collapse of the West, with even Turkish ‘enemy’ neighbour Greece in deep economic peril, which could take down other EU members too. (However Erdogan did visit Athens a few days ago.)

Ankara knows there is scant chance of its joining EU as full member with freedom for 70 million Turks to potter inside Europe. The last opportunity was in 1986 when offered membership with Athens; Ankara delined. Turkey has a Customs Union agreement with EU and a flourishing trade with it. After 9/11, EU membership will remain an impossible dream, a Chimera. Turkey’s leadership and its proud people know it. The AKP leadership has used the charade of joining EU to keep the military away from apex decision making by downgrading the military dominated National Security Council so as to align with Copenhagen criteria for entry into EU. President Abdullah Gul had remarked some years ago –do Ankara or Istanbul look like European cities!

Medvedev in Ankara

During Medvedev's visit, the two countries signed 17 agreements, which are estimated to be worth US $25 billion. The trade turnover between Russia and Turkey now exceeds $30 billion, the ambitious target for the next five years is a whopping $100 billion. "It is hard even to imagine, but this figure is an attainable one," pronounced Medvedev, "Once we achieve this goal, it becomes a model for Europe." Russia's overall trade with Europe presently stands at $200 billion. From the beginning of the Bear and Gray Wolf coming together after 2003, economic cooperation has led into other sectors and restoration of trust. Russian tourists who throng in millions Turkey’s beaches along the Aegean, Mediterranean and even the Black Sea coast can now enter without visas.

Russian investments in Turkey total over $4 billion, and Turkey’s in Russia, over $6 billion. Presently Russian energy giant Gazprom supplies 70 % of Turkey's gas needs (next only after Berlin and Rome). Russia supplies approximately $1.8 billion worth of oil and between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion of refined oil products to Turkey annually.

The two countries are building the Blue Stream gas pipeline along the Black Sea bed and have decided to build a second line of the pipeline. Turkey is also considering joining the South Stream project to transport Russian natural gas across the Black Sea to Bulgaria and on to Italy and Austria. With Turkey becoming the hub for transports of gas and oil from the Caspian and Iran, Russia is ready to help in the construction of the other oil pipelines.

A major strategic change has come in the field of nuclear energy. Ankara will allow Moscow to build - and own - a $20 billion nuclear power house. The agreement envisages the construction of four reactors on Turkey's southern Mediterranean coast. Russia's Rosatom will operate the facilities and sell electric power. Rosatom will complete the first reactor in seven years and thereafter one reactor every three years. Significantly, Rosatom may also set up a facility in Turkey to make nuclear fuel. Turkey has followed the BOT route of development in many other sectors too.

Rosatom will first establish a fully-owned subsidiary, which will then offer up to 49% shares to investors from Turkey or even from third countries. Rosatom expects to recoup the $20 billion cost of the project in 15 years by selling half of the electricity generated to the Turkish state distribution company and the rest to the country's private sector. But Rosatom must give 20% of its profits to the Turkish government. Russian terms would be difficult to match thus it is a strategic breakthrough .

The Russian Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, meanwhile, announced recently that Russia was holding discussions to sell helicopters and air-defense systems to Turkey.

Turkey and Russia with others in the region are charting a policy of friendship based on solid economic alliances. Turkey with its pre-Ottoman and Ottoman past shares ethnic, cultural and linguistic affinities with central Asia, Caucasus and Balkans. Ankara has excellent relations with East European nations and tie ups with its former Vilayats (provinces). With economic gains as bait Ankara can even help Moscow re-enter Balkans including new states created out of Yugoslavia, from where Russia was forced out by US and NATO during 1990s. While their interests do not always coincide, the two can help each other out in the Caucasus, as and when US power and influence ebb there.

With Gul besides him, Medvedev proclaimed in Ankara, "Russia and Turkey are working together to maintain global and regional stability. Sitting in the president's office just now we spoke about the fact that the Black Sea countries themselves, and above all the region's two biggest countries, Russia and Turkey, bear direct responsibility for the situation in the region." Russia, certainly and even Turkey might want to forestall any attempt to make the Black Sea a "NATO lake". Moscow hopes Ankara would help keep outside powers at bay. Russia itself is trying its best to limit NATO's activities in Georgia and even the East European Black Sea coast.

Any Russia-Turkish attempt to create a regional security system or understanding in the South Caucasus will be resisted by Washington, which has its proxy ruling in Georgia and close relationship with Azerbaijan based on exploitations of its oil and gas reserves. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline gives US a handle to keep Baku and Georgia in line. Azerbaijan has close relations with Ankara but an agreement between Turkey and Armenia to normalise relations has sent Baku fuming. Armenia remains allied to Russia, Georgia is unlikely to join NATO any time soon after the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia. On the whole Washington’s influence is on the decline.

Syria and Middle East

Before coming to Ankara Medvedev was in Damascus , the first such visit by a ruler from Moscow since the 1917 Revolution.

In Cold War era such hyphenating would have been unthinkable. But there has been a sea change in their relations after the visit of Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer to Damascus in April 2005, despite US ambassador in Ankara Eric Edelman's public stand against it. Sezer's visit reciprocated Syrian President Bashar Assad's visit to Ankara in January 2004, the first ever such visit since Syria broke away from Ottoman Turkey after World War I. As recently as 1998, Turkey had threatened to invade Syria unless it expelled Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Marxist Kurdish Workers party (PKK), sheltered by Damascus as a lever against Turkey for its share of Euphrates waters and irredentist claims over Hatay province, which was annexed to Turkey in 1939.

During the Damascus visit no new arms deal were disclosed but under existing contracts, Russia is supplying MiG-29 fighter jets, Pantsir short-range air-defense systems and anti-aircraft artillery systems to Syria, according to Mikhail Dmitriyev, head of the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation. Russia would also supply anti-tank weapons without specifying the type. “There are quite a few contracts to repair and upgrade systems delivered in the Soviet era,”.

Expectedly, Israel, reacted angrily calling into question the solvency of Damascus.
"Syria at the present time cannot afford to pay for this sophisticated weaponry. Indeed, it has hardly enough money to buy food for its citizens. One can only wonder what is the real reason behind this dubious deal," said an Israeli official in Jerusalem who declined to be identified.

The United States has imposed sanctions on Syria for its support of militant groups and for corruption. Washington has a blow hot blow cold policy, hoping to detach Damascus from Tehran’ s embrace, which is most unlikely.

Medvedev unnerved Israel by meeting with Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of the Palestinian group Hamas. "Russia's haste to win this contract has seen it even willing to meet with notorious Hamas leaders in Syria," an Israeli official said.
Israel's Foreign Ministry was "deeply disappointed" with Medvedevs meeting with Meshaal. In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry rebuffed Israel's criticism of the meeting ."Hamas … is a movement supported by the trust and sympathy of a significant part of Palestinians," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement. "We have regular contacts with this movement."

While US, EU and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group, Russia insists that Hamas should not be isolated. Russia, the United States, the EU and the United Nations make up a quartet of Middle East mediators. Russia considers Hamas a major party for a solution to the Palestine problem. Medvedev said that Hamas shouldn't be excluded from the peace process.

Medvedev described Gaza a "humanitarian disaster" and sought wider regional and international participation in seeking "actual solutions and decisions" in the Middle East , expressing regret at the slowdown in the US-brokered peace process which in turn "is having an impact on the situation in the Middle East.

Ankara has used much stronger words against Tel Aviv about the situation in Gaza, occupied West Bank and the Middle East. Ankara has hosted Hamas delegation and maintains contacts with it. During the Ottoman era, Palestinians were faithful subjects and Turks feel strongly whenever Palestinians are killed or maltreated. Books and films have been made expressing Turkish anger and repulsion at Israel.

Russian-Syrian relations after a hiatus following the collapse of USSR in 1991 were renewed in full vigour in January 2005, when Syrian president Bashar Assad was invited for 4 day visit to Moscow. The visit marked the first stirrings of the Russian bear, which was sent into hibernation after the USSR's power was dismantled by Mikhail Gorbachev, without leveraging anything in return. A drunk or drugged Boris Yeltsin then set Russia on the road to economic ruin, decay and humiliation everywhere.

To mark the historic Syrian visit, Russia wrote off 73% of US$13.4 billion in debt owed by Syria from the days of the USSR. President Putin said this created "opportunities for long-term cooperation".br />
AAssad defended his country's right to acquire surface-to-air missiles from Russia. "these are weapons for air defense, meant to prevent aircraft from intruding in our airspace", he said "If Israel objects to our acquisition of these defensive weapons, it is as if it is saying, 'We want to attack Syria but we do not want them to defend themselves.' That's not logical," declared Assad. He reiterated an earlier denial of a deal for SA-18 missiles and long-range Iskandar-E missiles that could reach targets all over Israel. Ever since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, Syria has been threatened both by Israel and the US. Assad would be furious when Israeli jets buzzed him in his palace at will.

Commented a jittery Jerusalem Post, "Russia's planned sale of SA-18 missiles to Syria looms ominously as a throwback to the [Leonid] Brezhnev era's most misguided attitudes. Economically, Syria is a basket case whose debt-return record must make one doubt its financial commitments.’

This is funny and farcical. Where would Israel be without massive annual US aid and protection of US veto in the Security Council ? Would not Israel be a basket case too without US aid ?

For internal situation in Turkey read:President Abdullah Gul ; a distinguished visitor from Turkey

New Delhi could learn from Ankara how to plan and conduct foreign policy. Unfortunately, Washington’s soft diplomacy is flowering in India. New Delhi has too many in decision making positions who are afflicted with Washcon Syndrome.

K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. Copy right with the author. Email:


More by :  K. Gajendra Singh

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