Russia’s military intervention in Syria is a deliberate act, based on years of planning. President Vladimir Putin solved most of the domestic problems in Russia, rejuvenated the armed forces, ensured security of the “near-abroad” and reached out to Afghanistan to eliminate the terror threat to his country. The primary objective was to return to the centre stage of world politics, as a superpower.
The declared objective is that “Russia is saving Europe from the barbarians for the fourth time — from the Mongols, Napoleon, Hitler, and now the ISIS terrorists.” In fact by saving Europe, Putin is working for global peace.
On the domestic front he has laid the foundation for a strong relationship with China, turning the 4,000km long hostile border into a barter trade paradise. He has been able to overcome the pressures of sanctions and oil crisis through judicious policies, negotiations, and agreements. He built up the armed forces, matching with the best of the world and is selling to India over $20 billion worth of nuclear powered submarines, S-400 air defense systems, 400 MI-35 gunships, 127 Sukhoi aircraft and ship-borne missiles, which recently hit targets in Yemen from far off battleships.
Putin has also consolidated Russia’s security interests in the areas of its “near-abroad” and used force to annex Georgia and Crimea. As early as 2004, he gathered a select group of political scientists and thinkers under the umbrella of the Valdai Discussion Club and “put forward his vision of his country for overcoming the logic of conflict in tomorrow’s world, for a life at peace.” Armed with this intellectual input, Putin is now engaged in Syria. His purpose is not to get involved in the Shi‘i-Sunni conflict but to prevent Syria and Iraq from unraveling as Libya and Yemen did and to give the Syrian government the capability to hold on to sizeable territory.
Ultimately, President Bashar al-Asad may be asked to relinquish power to facilitate the creation of a unity government in Syria. Putin may then turn to Iraq, to build a stable government under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who may also abdicate to facilitate a unity government there. The two rump states thus created will take on Da‘ish, supported by the rest of the world. The strategy of strangulation would be the best approach to lay siege to Da‘ish-held territory and bring about its elimination.
Putin’s approach to battle “is the continuation of politics by other means, seeking to translate military campaign into political success.” In dealing with Da‘ish, Putin seems to have a good sense of the early history of Islam. In the year 38ah (659ce), an extremist rebel group called the Khawarij, very similar to Da‘ish in outlook and operations, had emerged after the standoff between Imam ‘Ali (ra) and Mu‘awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan. The khalifah of the Muslims, Imam Ali (ra) fought the battle of Nahrawan to defeat the Khawarij. Syria and Iraq now appear similarly destined to fight Da‘ish to a finish under the Russian plan.
Putin understands the situation in Afghanistan much better than most other rulers. The panic that has gripped Kabul today resembles Saigon during the year 1965. The foreigners have already left Kabul and American and NATO troops are using helicopters for movements to the airport and other places. Thousands of Afghans are also packing up for destinations in Europe through Iran and other neighboring countries. Putin knows that the Taliban having won the war would soon be the rulers of Afghanistan and, therefore, Russia must remain engaged with them, helping them out where needed.
The truckloads of military hardware moving from Sher Khan dry port to Kunduz, reportedly was handed over to the Taliban as part of this understanding. Russia’s main concern now is the repatriation of thousands of jihadis from Russia and the Central Asian states, presently fighting alongside the Taliban. Repatriation is possible but only with the support of the Taliban. Similarly, about 150,000 Pakistani tribesmen living in Afghanistan could return to Pakistan if amnesty was granted. It would be a hard decision to make, to ensure peace not only on the Pak-Afghan border but all countries bordering Afghanistan.
Putin says, “Peace as a state of world politics has never been stable. Peace is an anomaly, exceedingly difficult to sustain, and therefore, the only way to maintain peace is to actually prepare for war.” He calls the past Cold War as “the golden era of world peace,” and has fired the first salvo to herald the advent of the new cold war but “with a difference.” To demonstrate Russian military prowess, he conducted military maneuvers with over 100,000 Russian troops in Central Asia, a month before intervening in Syria. He has launched bold trade and commercial initiatives within the region and beyond, which characterize the emerging new cold war era.
As a founding member, Russia is an important member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The economic cooperation with Pakistan is developing on a fast track. The Belarus Prime Minister Andre Kubyakov was in Pakistan on a two-day visit (November 10–11) to sign some important commercial deals. The gas pipeline construction from the Iranian border to Lahore at an estimated cost of $2 billion is a major step to create a new economic zone comprising Russia-China-Pakistan-Iran and Afghanistan. An oil deal Bani Saud would be important for Russia. It would be even more important for Bani Saud as they have been deprived of an exclusive relationship with Washington. Russia thus has entered the Muslim East with a bang.
The emerging cold war is characterized by geo-economic alliances as against the past military alliances and hundreds of military bases around the globe created by United States. After suffering successive military defeats, the US has shifted the “Strategic Pivot” from this region to the South East, and formed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for the economic siege of China. The TPP comprises Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The US is also working for the Indian Ocean Rim Countries Partnership (IORCP). China has responded with its own plan: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that proposes bringing 16 countries into a free-trade partnership. Thus the shaping of the geo-economic global order with its new geostrategic landscape under Putin’s logic is becoming a reality.
He says, “Peace, a life at peace, has always been and continues to be an ideal for humanity, but peace as a state of world politics has never been stable. We are trying to overcome the logic of conflict in tomorrow’s world. We stand for peace and we are preparing for war.”
The writer is former Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan and currently heads the Friends Foundation, a Pakistan-based NGO.