Vladimir Putin is resuming the play. A year ago he was spurned on the international political scene only to become a key player nowadays. As he had a face-to-face talk with Barack Obama during the G-20 Summit in Turkey, he must have been complacent about his plan coming to fruition. Making use of the terror victims, of whom 224 were his compatriots, the Russian president is slowly but surely re-establishing his position, gradually fulfilling his aims. Europe needs Putin in her struggle against Jihadists. It will, however, have its price: Europe will have to lift the sanctions imposed on Russia and give up on plans of integrating Ukraine within the Union.
As early as in September this year, as Russian air raids in Syria came down as a surprise, we voiced the opinion that Putin set his sights on making all the conflicting parties sit down to the ‘negotiation table’.
”Leading all sides to a ‘negotiating table’ should be main goal of Putin, as he always searched the possibility of ‘the new Yalta’.” – Gefira, 29.09.2015
This plan has been partly implemented. It was not only the Minsk Protocol on Ukraine that Putin managed to initiate but also the Vienna peace talks on Syria. What will come next? International agreements on combating terrorism? Multilateral agreements recognizing Russian interests in Ukraine and elsewhere?
It can be assumed that Putin intends to:
define the common enemy which is ISIS; √
bring Europe into the conflict in Syria; √
regain international recognition; √
cooperate with the West on a global scale;
have the sanctions lifted;
announce a shared success of the worldwide magnitude;
regain Ukraine (or at least not let her be integrated by the EU or NATO).
The first three points have already been materialized. Defining terrorists as the common enemy was a precondition for Russia to have her international standing restored. The combat against the jihadist movement that put the whole world in peril may entail the involvement of China, which means there are chances that the fight against terrorism will be legally dealt with by the Security Council of the United Nations, whose members include the United Kingdom, France and the USA.
Point two, bringing Europe into the conflict in the Middle East. The immigration influx that unmasked weaknesses of the EU and the threats that originate from destabilizing neighboring regions have done their job in this respect. The turning point that the Paris attacks proved to be may have been reached without ISIS or the migrant influx. It is the destruction of the driving force or the so called Islamic State (Daesh) that constitutes the first step in combating the Islamic radicalization in Europe; yet, the air raids carried out by the Western coalition have failed to be effective as yet.
It is extremely important for Russia to involve Europe in the Middle East conflict: it is in the Union’s interest, not in the interest of the USA, to bring about peace in this region rather than advance its own geopolitical interests. This may also make the European policy more independent of the American guidelines. Europeans are far more ready for the participation of Russia in the combat against terrorism, and this readiness was first voiced in Germany, later also in France. It is probable that the EU will force President Obama to arrive at an agreement with President Putin.
”And it [Europe] will need Russia to negotiate ‘Middle-East-truce’ because of its direct engagement in the war. It would be the greatest success for Russia and it can be reached just by strengthening Assad’s military position,” – Gefira, 29.09.2015
Point three, sitting to a ‘negotiation table’. The Ankara G-20 Summit was in this regard a tipping point. A year earlier Putin had left Brisbane prematurely, ignored or downright degraded by the Western leaders. Now Obama ‘deigned’ to talk to him. Russia is becoming indispensable.
Such are the current circumstances. And the prognosis? It is highly likely that the Western coalition and Russia will attempt to coordinate their efforts even against the interest of Iran, which will avoid at all costs a military alliance with the USA. Russia, as supportive of Iran as it may be, will take care of her own interests in the first place. The talks being carried out with Saudi Arabia on the supply of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft weapon system (with the less technologically advanced S-300 about to be sold to Iran, an opponent of the Saudis in the region) prove the point.
The cooperation between Russia and the Western powers seems necessary for the solution of the Syrian conflict. The price to be paid will be the lifting of the sanctions, which, as reported recently, were to be prolonged in December (they are binding till the end of January). If sanctions are to remain in force, they must be accepted unanimously, and such unanimity after the Paris attacks will be difficult to achieve. At present the EU is by far more concerned with ISIS than with the Donbass or the Crimea because it is the former that poses a threat to EU citizens. Russia might for instance stop her air raids aimed against Syrian rebels who are no part of ISIS in return for economic concessions.
The economic recession in Russia is all the more likely to last the longer the world recession continues, which is not desirable for the EU. At the end of the day a weak Russia would have a hard time dealing with the jihadist movement on her own soil. The Islamist fighters are now better organized than they were during the Chechen wars, and a possible Caucasian Caliphate created by the ISIS combatants is the last thing Europe needs.
The moment Putin has the sanctions against Russia lifted, maintaining Ukraine in apparent political stability, a peace treaty concerning Syria will be ready there to be signed. The tentative plan is already there, though drafting a new constitution and the process of gathering together opposition groups may prove to be extremely difficult. As much as Russia, the USA and Europe are capable of reaching an agreement, Saudi Arabia and Iran will not be ready to lose their spheres of influence at any cost. Perhaps the only reachable compromise will be the division of the country (be it in the form of a federation) in such a manner as to preserve the status quo regarding the spheres of influences of particular contestants, and to prevent the construction of the gas pipeline either through Sunni Qatar or Shia Iran. Prevention of the construction of the pipeline that might make Europe independent of Russian gas supplies will plainly be advantageous to Russia.
Be it as it may, the world powers after many months of heavy combat against terrorism will try to announce a success to the public opinion and their electorates, even at the cost of an uneasy compromise. The West must be, however, aware that concessions are likely to embolden Putin, and so the Ukrainian question will recur. A Europe made dependent on Russia will have to make concessions regarding Ukraine. The Ukrainian nation may fall prey to the agreement. Europe, in order to have peace, may give up the plans to integrate Ukraine into the EU and the NATO.