U.S. and Russia twist again
As a slap in the face, in December 2012 Forbes Magazine had announced a list of the world’s most powerful people. U.S. President Barack Obama was at the top, followed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Hence last week it didn’t take us by surprise when Russian President Putin emerged as a global leader by initiating and successfully realizing an ambitious plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons which has been accepted not only by the U.S. and the wider world, but also Syrian President Bashar al-Assad himself.
This gives us many hints. First of all, even though neither side has shifted its fundamental position on Syria, Washington and Moscow apparently have absorbed the fact that they cannot afford not to cooperate. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had confirmed this fact last December by saying that both countries “for understandable reasons acknowledge their special responsibility for international security.” Having exerted this responsibility last week, it looks like it is the second “reset” of Russian-U.S. relations, following the first one promised by Obama and then-President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009.
By stopping the war drums and presenting a peaceful prospect, Putin now seems to be wielding more power in the Middle East than Obama. Just last week, Iran’s newly elected President Hassan Rouhani urged Moscow to help resolve their nuclear crisis. Similarly, Egypt’s new military ruler, General al-Sisi, reached out to Putin to help stabilize his position against the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Saudis are just about making a nuclear deal with Russia. Whatever you think about the democratic credentials of these countries, all in all, Russia looks more capable in terms of using leverage in the region.
In the strangest twist of history, we are also facing Putin’s emerging role as a stabilizing peacemaker and a “man of reason” who had been so far slammed for his authoritarianism and described as a patriarch and czar by the international community. In compliance with this emerging “soft” and dovish image, Putin wrote a striking op-ed in the New York Times last week on September 11, the anniversary of the day that began the war on terrorism. He argued that a military strike on Syria would unleash a new wave of terrorism, undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, further destabilize the region and throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance. Sounds like Nelson Mandela, doesn’t he?
Last but not least, the recent developments also signal the end of the era when America had been the sole global superpower. As a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires and the ongoing Arab uprisings, the U.S. has come to terms with its own limitations and does not rely solely on its strengths and capabilities anymore. It knows that it needs its allies for any regional and international solution and therefore will rely more and more on their direct engagement. This also provides Turkey with the opportunity to play a major and constructive role by placing itself in the frontline of international diplomacy.
This new twist of history reminds me of one of the biggest “twist” hits: “Let’s twist again, twisting time is here”.