By Professor Andrei Kreutz,
EGF Adviser on Trans-Atlantic Security
During the last few weeks, the Syrian-American-Russian triangle directly or indirectly involving all Syria’s neighbors and a number of other nations, has become one of the major focuses of the political commentaries. The Russian initiative to help disarm Syria from its chemical weapons and Putin’s article which was published in the New York Times on September 11, 2013 apparently contributed decisively to prevent a new American military intervention in the Middle East, and brought Russia and its leader world-wide public attention, unknown since the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to the well-known American political analyst George Friedman, for the first time since the early 1990s, the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was able to sit with US State Secretary Kerry as an equal.
The agreement which they signed in Geneva on September 13, 2013 might open a way to solve the Syrian chemical arms problem and perhaps provide an opportunity for better Washington-Moscow relations. However, the path to those two very desirable goals is a rocky one, and there are both many obstacles to be overcome and many related dangerous problems which could remain unsolved. Although President Obama’s administration has accepted the Russian initiative and at least postponed the military attack on Syria, in the US and some other countries, there are still very powerful forces which want to go to war there. According to the prevailing consensus of the American political class, the Baathist regime in Syria needs to be destroyed. The Americans want to disarm the existing Syrian state, but are not going to stop to arm and support the Syrian rebels and their allies in the region. The future of Syria seems to be similar to that of Libya or even Somalia, and the impact of that on the whole region is difficult to predict. It is hard to believe that it could be a positive one.
The present improvement in American-Russian relations seems to be a shaky one. The US political class does not want to recognise Russia as “a partner in the world arena who is valuable in itself,” and following its imperial tradition the West still “attempts to foster the geopolitical disintegration of Eurasian space.” As the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitri Trenin notices, “The United States expects deference, Russia insists on independence. For Washington partnership with Moscow means Russia helping the United States on the US agenda; for Moscow, it means splitting the difference” and the necessary compromise. The US, which originated as a country relatively isolated from the rest of the world, and in the 20th century in the aftermath of the two great European wars (World War I and World War II) became a global superpower, has neither the experience nor the patience for that, and rightly or wrongly does not want to perceive Russia as an equal partner.
While the US and its allies are persisting in their accusations of the Assad regime for the chemical attack near Damascus on August 21,2013, Russia, on the other hand, presented evidence which in its view rather indicates some groups of rebels. Moscow and Washington are also divided on the issue of the use of military force in case Damascus does not fulfill its promised chemical disarmament. Neither side seems to change its basic position on the protection of sovereignty and the right to intervene in the internal affairs of the other nations (R2P). Putin’s appeal to the American public in his article in the New York Times was received with outrage and insults from many influential members of the American political class and opinion-makers. Not just the US but the West as a whole not only “does get Putin” but his persistent demonization which was usually based on flimsy or much exaggerated premises, sometimes made it unable to make a balanced judgement and to perceive the complex reality. Partly as a result of that, the future is still uncertain and the Middle East is probably the most difficult place to achieve expected results and mutual recognition and understanding.
However, in spite of all these challenges, one can also notice some reasons for hope and encouragement. Many American readers still found that Putin made a compelling case against military strikes, and according to public opinion polls, the majority of the Americans did not want a new war in the Middle East. Perhaps because of that, Obama’s administration proved, at least until now, to be more cautious and moderate than some other political forces in the country. What is no less important in the case of Syria, Russia has acted and is still acting as a moderating force in international politics, not as a trouble-maker, but as a problem-solver. According to a well-known British scholar, if it would be able and willing to continue that, “a golden age of Russian international diplomacy beckons.”
 George Friedman, “Strategy, Ideology and the Close of the Syrian Crisis”, Stratfor.com, September 17, 2013, In his opinion, “The most important outcome [of the agreement] globally is that the Russians sat with the Americans as equals for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union” (Ibid).
 “Interview with Dmitri Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center”, by Sergey Strokan, Kommersant, September 18, 2013.
 Richard Sakwa, “Russia’s new normal: From troublemaker to problem solver”, http://russia-direct.org, August 20, 2013.
 Dmitri Trenin, “The Snowden Case as the Mirror of US_Russia Contentions”, Carnegie Moscow Center, August 2,2013.
 Trenin, “Hold off on Champagne: Hard Slog Lies Ahead”, Carnegie Moscow Center, September 19, 2013.
For example, Democratic Senator Robert Mendez said that Putin’s article made him almost want to throw up, and the House Speaker John Boehner said he felt “insulted.” I believe Putin made an unfortunate mistake by touching the issue of American “exceptionalism”. The Americans are attached to this semi-religious idea and as in the 1920s G.K. Chesterton noticed, they are “the nation with the soul of the Church”.
 Trenin, “The West Just Doesn’t Get Putin”, Bloomberg, September 13, 2013.
 Stephen Cohen, “Demonizing Putin Endangers America’s Security”, www.the nation.com, September 16, 2013.
 Sakwa, “Russia’s New Normal: From Troublemaker to Problem Solver”, htpp://Russia-direct.org, August 20, 2013.
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