Yearender: Ukrainian, Syrian crises deadlocked as they become wrestling rings of global players


MOSCOW/DAMASCUS, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) — It is not an exaggeration to say that the global political landscape in 2015 was shaped by two civil conflicts in two not-too-big countries — Ukraine in East Europe and Syria in the Middle East.

They are both old battles. The conflict between Kiev and pro-independence forces in eastern Ukraine has lasted two years, while in Syria, armed rebellions have been trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.

The old battles were aggravated in the past year with fresh circumstances where almost all major players on world’s political arena, from the United States to Russia, to the Europe, pitted each other.

The aftermath, direct or indirect, including terrorist attacks as shocking as the one in Paris in November, the refugee problem troubling Europe and the incident between Russia and Turkey where a Russian bomber was downed by a Turkish fighter jet, have been drawing in more and more countries.

Ukraine and Syria have been evolved into wrestling rings of global powers at the cost of the well-being of their peoples, and peace and stability of the region and the world at large.

    NEW CIRCUMSTANCES

Two years after pro-independence insurgents in eastern Ukraine took up arms against the government, the settlement of the crisis was frustrated by the common violations of the two packages of peacemaking agreements reached separately in September 2014 and in February 2015.

Outside Ukraine, the crisis contributed to the West’s current standoff with Russia. The West has been accusing Russia of supporting pro-independence forces with a hidden purpose of recreating its old empire before the Soviet Union fell apart.

“It is absolutely correct that Russian foreign policy will be aimed at defending its national interests,” said Victor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Russian Institute for U.S. and Canada Studies.

NATO is attempting to exercise pressure on Russia including in the military sense. Russia, for its part, is demonstrating that it will not give in, he said.

However, due to the events in Syria, the Ukrainian crisis was somehow marginalized.

“As far as Ukraine is concerned, what is happening there, like new shooting, is nothing more than a pale shadow of what we have now in Syria,” said Vladimir Sotnikov, a senior research fellow with the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

As the Syrian crisis extends to a fourth year without an imminent peaceful settlement, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group has taken large territories of northern Syria, making the occupied land a safe haven for contemplating terrorist attacks.

The Syrian crisis has caused great damage to the region and the world. The problem of refugees has merged, Sotnikov noted.

“The world has become less secure and terrorist attacks that claimed by IS radicals may take place anywhere — in Moscow, in the United States, in Paris or other European capitals, in Africa or even in India or Indonesia,” he said.

“So the Syrian crisis, as well as other crises, has played a very sinister part.”

 

WRESTLING RINGS OF MAJOR POWERS

The battle against the IS is being carried out by countries each having its own interests and wanting to employ the fight against terrorism for its own purpose, said Hmaidi Abdullah, a political analyst and head of the Syria Political Research Center.

The Syrian crisis has made such division between all powers obvious.  “I think the powers are fighting their game on our territories,” the analyst said.

“The Syrian crisis will bring to surface the differences and the divisions among the international powers and the Russian-Turkish tension is a sign of that, a development that could see further division and confrontation between superpowers in Syria.”

In the battle against the IS, two coalitions exist in fact. One is headed by Russia and includes Iran, Syria and partially Iraq as the country is still maintaining warm relations with the United States. The other, including some 60 countries, is regarded as a pure Western invention.

“All participants have clear-cut national goals and objectives,” said  Sotnikov, the senior research fellow.

Russia insisted that only its military operations in Syria comply with international law, as the U.S.-led coalition has never asked for the permission of the Syrian government. It criticized the West for smearing Russia and for attempts to overthrow Middle East countries with so-called democratic revolution.

The West accused Russia of targeting rebels who opposed the Syrian government as well as injuring civilians.

“All want to calm the situation in the Middle East. The situation is complicated. There are no simple solutions. There are too many players. Both traditional and non-traditional,” Kremenyuk said.

However, the deputy director said Russia is not going to seek dominance in the Middle East. Russia is unable to controls oil there because Iran and Saudi Arabia will be strongly against it, said the deputy director.  “Its main interests lie in Europe, including in Ukraine.”

Being accused by Kiev and Western countries of sending weapons and troops to eastern Ukraine, Moscow continued to deny all allegations and claimed instead that the West incited current developments in Ukraine.

The Kremlin was annoyed by the fact that Kiev is receiving economic and military aid from Western countries, let alone the fact that the Ukrainian government is pushing forward the association agreement and free trade regime with the European Union (EU), which will be effective on Jan. 1, 2016.

Moscow worries that the Ukraine-EU economic deal would undermine the free trade regime Russia currently maintained with Ukraine, and deprive Russia of its influence in its neighboring country, experts said.

Meanwhile, with NATO reinforcing its military deployment to enhance European security structures and prevent Russian offensives, U.S. President Barack Obama signed on Nov. 25 the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes 300 million U.S. dollars for security assistance and intelligence support to Ukraine.

It seems that Russia still has a long way to go to push forward the peace process in Ukraine, as well as to normalize its relations with the West, experts said.

POLITICAL SOLUTION ONLY WAY OUT

In the name of counter-terrorism, the former U.S. administration of George W. Bush launched two successive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which instead of stemming terrorism, had bred waves of terrorist activities and violence that have claimed tens of thousands of innocent lives, said Abdullah.

While fighting the IS, more and more countries are joining China in calling for a political solution to the four-year old crisis. The Chinese side has been iterating on a number of occasions since the beginning of the crisis that a political solution is the only way out for the Syrian crisis, and a military strike cannot solve the problem.

Optimists said that the ongoing global battle against the IS might contribute to a reset in the relations among major players.

In bombing IS targets in Syria, Russia is collaborating with some of the countries from the Western coalition, particularly Germany and France.

“Some European countries appear to take an intermediate position between the two coalitions,” Sotnikov said.

Coordination among states participating in the operation in Syria has to be organized, Sotnikov said, explaining that aircraft belong to different countries are used in operations in Syria and pilots have maps and satellite pictures that may differ. A mechanism is needed to avoid serious accidents like violating borders.

However, many more experts see little chance that a coalition may be created on the basis of the sole idea of destroying the IS, with every participant of the coalitions having its clear national interests.

As far as terrorism is concerned, there has always been a difference between Russian and Western concepts of terrorism, said Kremenyuk. The common language of struggle against terrorism “has lamentably been lost after the Cold War,” he said.

There are other obstacles to forming the coalition, one of which is the deterioration of the Russian-Turkish relations, Sotnikov said, noting some members of the U.S.-led coalition have close relations with Turkey.

For Abdullah, Washington has limited the membership of the anti-terrorism coalition and alienated countries it dislikes out of geopolitical and global strategic considerations.

He said the U.S. -led anti-terror coalition is still betting on aiding loosely organized rebel groups in Syria, refusing thus to coordinate with the Syrian army. “As long as Britain and France are fighting the IS in Syria without coordination or cooperation with the Syrian army, their intervention will be deemed as illegal and means nothing but a way to keep the proxy war in Syria dragging on.

Against such a backdrop, some positive results of a multilateral meeting bringing together major countries and regional players, including China, Russia, the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia in October, appear to be rather precious.

Among the results there is a statement saying that Syria’s “state institutions will remain intact,” and the “political process will be Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, and the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria.”

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