18.09.2014 Author: Petr Lvov

John Kerry’s visit to the Middle East: US moves on Russia from the south

6756754Secretary of State John Kerry finished his weekend tour of the Middle East, arriving in Paris to participate in an international conference on Iraq’s security. The primary destination of the head of the U.S. Department of State was Saudi Arabia, where he met in Jeddah with representatives of the Arab countries (members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt and Jordan) and Turkey, to persuade them to join the coalition established by the United States to fight “Islamic State,” while, in reality, to restore the “anti-Syrian alliance” comprised of NATO and conservative Arab regimes.

Naturally, the key participant in the talks was Saudi Arabia, as the current spiritual leader of the Sunni world and the richest country in the region, prepared to finance plans for the overthrow of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. On the agenda was the issue of ending supplies to ISIL from Turkey and Jordan, as well as the prevention of financial support reaching the terrorists from abroad. The United States would also like to see Arab governments use their media for outreach. First and foremost, this would be popular TV networks “Al-Jazeera” and “Al-Arabiya,” financed by Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, respectively.

Before flying to Saudi Arabia, Kerry visited Baghdad and Amman. Jordan’s King Abdullah II said at the end of the visit by the Secretary of State that he is ready to join the coalition, while stressing that “but the main problem of the Middle East is Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.”

Kerry’s talks took place shortly after President Obama’s declaration of his intent to “weaken and destroy” IS in both Iraq and Syria. A senior State Department official involved in the negotiations noted that the meetings are being hosted by the Saudis. According to this official, this is significant not only because of the size and economic influence of Saudi Arabia, “but also because of its religious significance for Sunnis.” Overcoming the differences between Sunnis and Shiites in the region and in Iraq is an crucial part of improving the effectiveness of the coalition, as the majority of the fighters of “Islamic State” are Sunnis, and the new government in Baghdad Shiite-led, supported by Iran.

As later became clear, John Kerry pushed on participants in the Jeddah meeting the idea that the coalition might require enhanced presence of military bases in the region and overflight rights for military aircraft carrying out strikes against “Islamic State.” The Secretary also called for increased efforts to combat funding of extremist groups by individuals and private Islamic charities, since financial supervision in Kuwait and Qatar is extremely weak. Kerry put special emphasis on ending oil smuggling by “Islamic State” across the Jordanian and Turkish borders. Here, however, certain complexities arise, since IS sells oil and gas products from oil fields and refining facilities in controlled areas to companies owned by the two countries at almost 50% of the world price, allowing Jordanians and Turks to do pretty good business, and IG to earn at least three million. dollars per day. Therefore, as we learned, Washington will carry out “more focused work” with these countries over the next few weeks.

Following the September 11 meeting, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal reported the following at a press conference: “We agreed to work at full capacity to eradicate the IS terrorist phenomenon,” stressing that the negotiations were marked by “the need to respect the sovereignty and integrity of the region.” In turn, the Secretary of State highlighted “the central role of the Arab countries in resolving the IS problem.” Confidential sources leaked that the Secretary of State had asked the member countries to provide greater overflight rights for American military aircraft involved in operations against IS in Iraq. In addition, he raised the question of the possible provision of additional locations to host American Air Force bases, and even about the prospects for the introduction of a no-fly zone in Syria.

What this means is that the Americans raised the issue of free overflight over Syrian territory, for strikes against not only IS positions, but those of the Syrian Army, as well. Since Damascus had already rejected the possibility of unrestricted U.S. and allied overflights and airstrikes against Syrian territory, remarking that such actions would be seen as acts of aggression, Washington is apparently afraid that Syria’s air defense and air force might SAR might start shooting own American combat and reconnaissance aircraft in response to U.S. aggression in the air. According to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, a U.S. strike against IS targets in Syria without UN Security Council approval “would constitute an act of aggression and a gross violation of international law.” However, information has already leaked to the effect that the Americans and their allies will use special forces detachments against IS camps in Syria, thereby shifting the fighting from the air to the ground. This is a very serious and dangerous step for regional stability. Especially, as another report revealed, Riyadh agreed to host training camps for militants from the moderate Syrian opposition to fight in Syria against both IS and the troops of Bashar al-Assad’s government. The Syrian opposition fighters will be trained by American military instructors. It is also anticipated that there will be a round of meetings between heads of the defense ministries of the countries participating in today’s meeting, in order to develop action plans for the agreements reached.

So far, the issue of Turkish participation in the coalition is not yet fully resolved in the eyes of Washington. The Turkish foreign minister did not sign the final communiqué after the meeting in Jeddah. Moreover, the issue is clearly not only touches upon oil smuggling from areas of Iraq occupied by IS, but also Ankara’s major economic interests in Russia. Having halted substantial amounts of food purchases from the European Union in response to anti-Russian U.S. and EU sanctions, Russia had previously announced its intention to purchase these products from other countries, possibly including Turkey.
This situation raised great hope among Turkish exporters who, due to erroneous policies of the leadership of the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) under the “Greater Middle East” project, are currently losing the Libyan, Egyptian, Syrian and Iraqi markets. However, many in Turkey believe that the Erdogan government continues to follow a course of full speed support for NATO and the EU on Ukraine, thereby causing considerable concern to Russia. After the recent NATO summit in Wales, the AKP government has clearly not changed its position. Instead of Russia, which is opening its food market to Turkey to the tune of several billion dollars without any pre-conditions for the latter, Ankara is cooperating with the West, turning a blind eye to the fact that in Western intelligence reports Turkey is defined as a “target” or “ally, but not friend.”

Furthermore, the recent NATO summit identified two strategies that directly relate to this country, transforming Turkey into a target. Firstly, using the Ukrainian crisis as a pretext, a decision was taken to place NATO forces near the Russian border and in the Black Sea. With this in mind, NATO conducted military exercises, with Turkey taking part.

The second strategy involves the Middle East and assumes the creation of a coalition, allegedly for operations against IS, but which actually seem to target Syria, “Hezbollah” and – again, Russia.

Given Turkey’s geographic location, one might posit that NATO and the U.S.-Sunni Arab bloc see Turkey as a “revolving door,” which will also be involved in these operations in several areas, including in the plan to move Army personal and aircraft in the event of commencement of airstrikes against Syrian territory and land operations in Syria. However, most importantly, all of these military projects constitute a time bomb for Turkey, which will inevitably undermine the integrity of the country and will lead to an internal split. Apparently, in response to this, Russia’s Minister of Economic Ulyukayev canceled his visit to Turkey, which was to take place on September 9. The purpose of the visit was to clarify the issue of food imports from Turkey to Russia.

This raises the question of whether President Putin will visit Turkey this autumn. In reality, the ties between the current authorities in Ankara and NATO hinder relations between Turkey and Russia, which is opening opens a multi-billion dollar market to Turkish farmers, while also serving as Turkey’s primary supplier of raw materials and energy.

Thus, apparently, after Jeddah, Kerry went to Ankara to confirm Turkey’s commitment to a common line with regard to the resurrected coalition, since the Turkish foreign minister had not signed the final communiqué from the meeting in Saudi Arabia.

Another “problem” country for the United States in this respect is Egypt, whose president recently visited Russia and has forged a course toward the development of a comprehensive partnership with Moscow, covering both trade and military-technical cooperation. The problem is especially relevant, given that the Obama Administration supported the 2011 overthrow of Mubarak and the rise to power of the “Muslim Brotherhood” in a “color revolution,” with the Islamists then taking Egypt into economic disaster and an acute political crisis. Thus, Kerry’s objective in Cairo as clear as day: get the Egyptians to abandon the development of a partnership with Russia and to lock President Sissi into a pro-Western position as part of the established anti-Syrian coalition. For the time being, it is difficult to predict what choice Egypt will make, given the financial capacity of the primary partners of the United States in the region – Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as the long-standing historical orientation of a significant part of Egyptian business towards the West. We must admit frankly that Russia has less leverage here, although Moscow’s cause is served by the fact that, in political terms, Russian policy in the Middle East is considerably more attractive to Cairo than American policy, which is aimed at the suppression of national independence and the imposition of U.S. “democratic” values.

In any event, one would prefer to believe that Moscow is well aware that Syria and the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus are not Washington’s primary goal, but only a phase in the realization of Obama’s main strategic objectives: to do its utmost to weaken the Russian economy and the position of the Russian Federation in the region. Syria hampers the laying of a pipeline from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria to Syria’s Mediterranean coast, and from there to southern Europe, which would utterly disrupt the “South Stream” gas pipeline project.

Thus, having set a course to weaken Russia in order to bring about in the long term replacement of the current authorities in Moscow by a pro-American regime, as well as to bring under its control the entire global energy system, Washington is moving against Russia from the south via the Near and Middle East, under the pretext of combating the spread of Islamist terrorism, as represented by IS. By imposing economic sanctions bypassing the UN Security Council and forcing the EU and other allied countries to follow suit, the United States has, in essence, begun an economic war against Russia. Therefore, in the Russian Federation has no choice but to take drastic measures to protect itself and its allies in the region.

Peter Lvov, Ph.D in political science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.