Putin’s speech at the UN is further indication that the Kremlin feels more confident on the global stage. The Syria crisis and the ISIS threat are now being used by Moscow as assets to highlight its important role in dealing with global challenges.
Russian President President Vladimir Putin attends a luncheon hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, at United Nations headquarters. Photo: AP
For a very different take read: "Putin tries to change the subject at the UN – and fails"
The speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the UN General Assembly, with its mention of a broad-based coalition to take on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS), has already attracted a lot of attention in the media for the impact that it might have on global security.
However, Putin did not express any new ideas, but rather, voiced his consistent and even more decisive position on international affairs. Once again, he laid out Russia’s concerns over NATO expansion, the increasing influence of radical Islamist organizations and the crisis of the international system founded after the Second World War.
Putin also warned against what he describes as the hegemonic influence of certain powers (implying the U.S.) and reiterated the reasons that lie behind Russia’s policy in Ukraine, such as the power vacuum that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union and NATO's expansion eastward.
Some see Putin’s speech at the UN and his upcoming meeting with his American counterpart Barack Obama in New York as a political victory, marking his triumphant “return” to the world’s political arena after a period of ten years in which he did not address the UN General Assembly.
However, let’s be clear. This is not about Putin’s triumphant return, for the simple reason that he never went away. The fact is that both Russia and the West continue to view the world as a vast Eurocentric playground (not so much geographically, since it includes North America, but in terms of civilization, culture, politics and economics).
This system, which dominated the world in the post-war era, is now unraveling before our very eyes. Therefore, just because the West “excluded” Putin for a while does not mean that he “left” world politics — on the contrary, in Russia his prestige and influence in the last two years have grown significantly, especially in the so-called Global South.
Also read the Q&A with Columbia University's Robert Legvold: "Syria is now in the middle of a new, more dangerous Cold War"
The opening shots in the new dialogue come as no surprise, since the West has cornered itself on the Middle East. The result is European panic over the influx of refugees, which, incidentally, is not the largest the continent has ever seen.
Video by Pavel Gazdyuk
Meanwhile, the United States is beginning to understand that 45 years of supporting groups hostile to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has not only failed, but facilitated the rise of movements far more aggressively minded towards the West.
In recent days the situation has been exacerbated by information leaked to the press about the colossal sums of money spent on training fighters from Syria’s “democratic opposition” — first the news that most of the trained group immediately switched allegiance to ISIS, and then that around $500 million had gone on training another such unit consisting of five (!) soldiers.
So it is not just a matter of total disarray and the lack of any clear concept in Syria, but of manifest large-scale corruption. Therefore, no matter how unpleasant, we have to recognize the fact that the Assad regime is a far lesser evil than either ISIS or the total collapse of the Syrian state.
It is a bitter pill for the West to swallow, since it vindicates the Russian president and underscores the importance of Russia in settling the Middle East crisis.
Incidentally, the process of rethinking U.S. policy in the Middle East began much earlier, in the first years of Obama’s presidency, the culmination of which was the signing of an agreement on Iran and the de facto recognition of the failure of the previous tactic and the need for coordinated action against the common enemy in the form of Sunni fundamentalism.
Will this lead to compromise in other areas, including Ukraine? Yes and no. A Middle East agreement per se will not cause such a shift. But the overall dynamics of the conflict are certainly pushing the West in that direction.
There are at least three factors nudging the West towards a possible compromise. First, European leaders are horrified at the migration flows from the Middle East and do not want to encounter an even larger exodus out of Ukraine.
Second, the ineffectiveness of the Ukrainian army is by now well understood by everyone.
Third, there is growing irritation in the West over the lack of real reform and the growing corruption in Ukraine. These factors could indeed help bring about some progress.
However, the unfolding 2016 U.S. presidential campaign makes any concessions to Moscow very risky for Obama, who is already portrayed as having ceded the strategic upper hand to Putin in the Middle East. This year’s meeting of the UN, already important because of the 70th anniversary milestone, has taken on even greater meaning now that we have seen Putin and Obama outline their views of the future in such stark contrast.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.