One sentence in a news report the other day on Russia’s assertive new campaign to subdue Islamic extremists in Syria simply will not leave my mind. It was written by Michael Gordon, the State Department correspondent at the government-supervised New York Times. American officials, Gordon reported, are “confident” that Moscow will fail as it tries to return some semblance of order to what is now the world’s most tragic nation. This failure would be a good thing, we are to understand.
In our last post we described how its critical, conservative view of the Euromaidan revolution, the new government’s reaction to the so-called Russian Spring and the conduct of the Donbas War earned it the Ukrainian newspaper Vesti the deep distrust of the authorities and the moniker “Mouthpiece of the Kremlin” among many Ukrainians. Here we will describe how the paper came under pressure from both the government and “activists” (re: radicals) over the past year and a half.
According to former editor-in-chief Igor Guzhva, in April 2014 the holding was approached by figures within the new government who proposed that Vesti hand over part of its shares, free of charge, as means to avoid conflict. This was refused, and in May began a series of investigations, searches and official denunciations of Vesti by high ranking officials.
Though given in November 2014, the University of California’s Provost Emeritus and Professor of Political Science George W. Breslauer’s speech to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences remains very relevant today. Dr. Breslauer noted that while he has “never been a part of the chorus that is quick to blame the United States when something goes wrong internationally…in the case of Russia, I think we brought the current problems upon ourselves.” The video link to his speech is at the link below, and Dr. Breslauer’s written remarks can be found here: https://www.amacad.org/content/publications/pubContent.aspx?d=21687
The specter of a crackdown on free speech in Ukraine was raised this spring by the murder of opposition journalist and intellectual Oles Buzina and the arrest of Ukrainian journalist Ruslan Kotsaba, who was charged with undermining the draft. Yet a showdown between the government, radical activists and Vesti, the country’s largest opposition paper, has largely slipped by unnoticed by western commentators.
It came to a head in July of this year with the resignation of its editor-in-chief Igor Guzhva, who was likely forced out by the paper’s owner, former Yanukovich ally and oligarch-on-the-lam Aleksandr Klimenko. Strict oversight was imposed on the paper, politically sensitive material withdrawn and a focus on “affirmative topics” announced.
Eugene Rumer, a Senior Associate and Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes “The P5+1—the U.S., Russia, France, Great Britain, China, all U.N. Security Council permanent members joined by Germany—is a unique forum where the key parties can come together to seek a way to solve the Syrian crisis. In addition to the major powers, the P5+1 format has the advantage of being able to engage Iran, a critical actor in Syria without whom no solution can be found.”
Turkey has summoned separately the American and Russian ambassadors in Ankara to complain about their countries acting in support of the military forces of the Syrian Kurds who are fighting Isis.
The Russian government has a number of different motives for its intervention in the conflict in Syria. Among these are the desire to help an old ally, to be seen once more as a great power on the world stage, and establish a position that will force US and European leaders to treat Russia’s views with greater respect, especially over the Ukraine crisis.
Russia’s strategy, however, also stems from a particular analysis of the situation in Syria based on a mixture of hard-headed realism and the experience of over two decades since the fall of communism.
Criticism of Russia’s projection of force into Syria is often laced with predictions of an impending Russian quagmire, in the fashion of the Soviet misadventure of the 1970s in Afghanistan. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Mr. Putin has made a strategic, well calibrated and thought out move on the Middle East chessboard and will soon reap significant geopolitical rewards from it.
Turkey’s military said its jets shot down an unidentified drone in Turkish air space near Syria on Friday.
A U.S. official said Washington believed it was of Russian origin, but the Russian defense ministry said all of its planes in Syria had safely returned to base and that all its drones were operating “as planned”. NATO said Turkey was investigating where the drone came from.
ACEWA Founding Board Member Stephen F. Cohen continues his weekly appearance on the John Batchelor Show. This week Dr. Cohen and John Batchelor discuss the ongoing war in Syria, with a particular emphasis on the proxy war that is playing out between the US and Russia, with Russia flying sorties over Syrian rebel strongholds while the US continues to arm the so-called Syrian “moderate” opposition.