Putin – Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man
By Finian Cunningham
Almost everyone now recognises that Russia’s military intervention in Syria to defeat the so-called Islamic State terror group was the right call to make. Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t crowing about it. He doesn’t have to.
Putin’s vindication was made clear by the enthusiastic reception afforded to him at the summit of G20 leaders in Turkey last weekend. The Financial Times headlined: “Putin transformed from outcast to problem solver at G20”.
The paper went on to note that: “An audience with the Russian president was one of the hottest tickets in town, as Western leaders were forced to recognise the road to peace in Syria inevitably runs through Moscow.”
Even US President Barack Obama was seen to confer with Putin as the two leaders held an impromptu and earnest face-to-face discussion on the sidelines of the summit.
It was a constructive encounter with none of the antagonism that Washington has all too often displayed towards Putin over the past year. The Paris terror assault – with 129 dead and hundreds wounded in simultaneous gun and bomb attacks – no doubt concentrated the minds of world leaders attending the G20 conference, held in Turkey’s Antalya only two days after the mass killings.
The atrocity was claimed by the Islamic State terror network (also known as ISIS or ISIL), with seven of its operatives killed in the suicide attacks. Days later, the conclusion by Russian investigators this week that a terrorist bomb was the cause of the
Russian civilian airliner crash on October 31 over Egypt’s Sinai desert – with the loss of all 224 people onboard – has only added to the grim public realisation about ISIL and its affiliates. French President Francois Hollande – who skipped the G20 summit due to the emergency situation unfolding at home – appealed this week for a “global coalition to defeat Islamic State”.
This was made during a special address to both upper and lower houses of the French parliament at the Palace of Versailles. The French leader called on the US and Russia to join forces, along with France and other countries. Hollande is to fly to Washington on November 24 to discuss with Obama how to coordinate efforts at combating ISIL in Syria and Iraq. Two days after that, the
French president is due in Moscow to hold the same discussion with Putin. Putin has already acknowledged the appeal from Hollande, saying that he welcomes closer cooperation, adding that Russia has been consistently calling for a greater joint effort in combating terrorism.
Putin has even reportedly offered Russian naval coordination with the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the eastern Mediterranean for future airstrikes against ISIL. Within days of the Paris massacre, French warplanes launched extensive strikes against Islamic State bases in eastern Syria.
Russia and its Syrian ally have pointed out that previous military strikes by the US and France are in violation of international law since these operations do not have consent from the government in Damascus. It remains to be seen then how Russia would coordinate military operations with France in Syria owing to the legal implications.
Since the Paris mayhem, several French political figures and former military intelligence personnel have urged Hollande to re-think policy on Syria.
Opposition leader Nicolas Sarkozy, among others, said that “to not coordinate with Russia is absurd”. A think-tank, CF2R, with close links to French military intelligence, also advised the Hollande government to view the Syrian leader not as the enemy, and to dedicate efforts, in conjunction with Russia, on destroying the ISIL and related groups.
In other words, Russia is being proven right about its intervention in Syria. The most effective way to defeat the terror networks of ISIL and other jihadist groups like the Nusra Front is to support the Syrian state, to coordinate with the Syrian Arab Army on the ground, and to target the militants with a full-on campaign.
That is why Putin was received at the G20 summit with a newfound respect among other leaders. When Putin ordered the Russian military intervention in Syria, beginning on September 30, it was not done in half-measures. In a matter of weeks, the Russian air force has achieved more in terms of wiping out terror groups than the US-led coalition did in more than a year of airstrikes.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted in an interview this week that the US-led bombing supposedly against the Islamic State has been ineffective due to its conflicting priorities. Lavrov said that since August 2014, the Western so-called anti-ISIL coalition was focused on “weakening” the Damascus government and therefore it did not strike decisively at ISIL formations because they are seen as assets in the Western effort for regime change.
Some analysts go further and argue that the Islamic State and associated jihadist mercenaries are the result of covert Western sponsorship of these groups.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf Arab states are also known to have been major funders and facilitators of the jihadist brigades. Putin highlighted these links at the G20 summit when he announced that the financing of the terror networks in Syria has come from “40 states, including members of the G20”.
Thus, while Russia has been vindicated in its strategy and tactics on Syria, the appeal for a “global coalition” against terror has intrinsic limits. This is because key Western powers and their regional allies are committed in principle against such a Russian-defined front.
The United States, Britain and France are among those states insisting that the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has to relinquish power, sooner or later. Russia rejects that demand as a violation of Syrian sovereignty.
These Western states are also known to have supplied weapons, at least indirectly, to the jihadist terror groups.
British leader David Cameron complained at the G20 summit that Russia has hit “non-ISIL opposition to Assad – people who could be part of the future of Syria.” But who or where are these “non-ISIL” groups that Cameron says “could be part of the future of Syria”?
When Russia has asked the West for information and locations on “moderate rebels” to avoid in its airstrikes, the West has refused to provide any details.
France is as guilty as any other of the foreign states for fuelling a covert war in Syria that has spawned the terror problem of Islamic State and its affiliates. A problem that has, in turn, rebounded with horrific results outside of Syria’s borders, killing hundreds of French and Russian citizens in only the past three weeks.
Vladimir Putin has demonstrated true leadership on tackling terrorism in Syria and beyond. As the old English proverb goes: cometh the hour, cometh the man.
However, the more troubling problem is this: how many other statesmen are ready and willing to do the decent thing and follow the Russian lead? Russia’s policy on Syria is the morally and legally correct one.
The Paris and Russian airliner massacres, as well as other recent terrorist atrocities in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and other countries, cry out for a real anti-terror effort based on respecting sovereignty and abiding by international law.
That challenge will expose those states that have built their policies on Syria out of deeply criminal objectives and methods.