By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
The beginning of the new year 2016 was marked by several dramatic shifts around the globe. Most important was the lifting of western sanctions against Iran which followed after the historic nuclear agreement that was reached in July last year in Vienna between Iran and the foreign ministers from 7 nations (US, UK, Russia, China, France, Germany and the EU representative for foreign policy Federica Mogherini).
For the first time since decades Iran has again been catapulted to act as a major political factor in the Mideast region as well as within OPEC. A reaction formation to the new role which is given to Iran is showing on the one side in the frantic effort by Saudi Arabia to undermine Iran’s political role in the region, which also is reflected in the oil policy. The alarming decline of the oil price will have not only an effect on Iran but most significantly on Russia’s currency and economy and it plays into the hands of those who once again predict a Russian collapse.
The historic Iran deal – pathway for the future?
Simultaneously however since late December 2015 and beginning of 2016, efforts are made by both Russia and the US to calm down the Ukraine crisis and bring about the implementation of the Minsk II agreements (measures to bring about ceasefire in the areas of Donets and Luhansk to be followed with constitutional reforms, local elections and the guaranteeing of a special status to Eastern Ukraine); to resolve the Syrian crisis by preparing a meeting of the contact group that should pave the way for a viable peace agreement in Syria.
Indicative is the January 20th meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov which took place in Zürich (Switzerland). The two ministers discussed about Syria, the need for humanitarian programs to be implemented in Syria by the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other non- governmental organization. In a press conference in Zürich Lavrov underlined that Russia is ready to coordinate humanitarian assistance to Syria with the coalition led by the United States and that Russia is ready to “coordinate our actions more closely with the American coalition”. According to Lavrov the UN Security Council resolution 2254 “remains the key basis for forward movement”. He stated that they discussed “practical steps to declare ceasefire”. This resolution was adopted Dec 18th 2015 in support of the Vienna agreements on the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Syria which envisages the participation of the Syrian opposition and of the government in the talks that are due to start January 2016 but may be postponed till February. The final goals of negotiations are defined as establishing the transitional government, adopting a constitution and holding election in the next 18 months, where the Syrian people should decide the future of Syria.
New efforts to overcome Ukraine-Russia crisis
The two foreign ministers also agreed that the Minsk II package of measures designed to implement the September 2014 agreements for a Ukraine settlement should be implemented “consistently and in full measure”. Kerry was accompanied by his Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland who several days before had held a meeting with Russia presidential aide Vladislav Surkov in Kaliningrad. Kerry confirmed that the US work regarding Ukraine will be aimed at support for the Contact group and the Normandy format (which is going to meet end of January in Minsk), which was reiterated by Lavrov who stated that “the positive assessment by our American partners of the Normandy Four’s activity was confirmed”.
Russia more resilient than people wish
On January 11th a long interview by President Putin to the German mass tabloid BILD. It was the second interview in ten years with BILD that wanted to obviously convey a certain image to the German population. The President was showing himself as a politician who rather than having a bombastic language of authoritarian style tried to identify the causes for the crisis between Russia and the West and in particular between Russia and Germany. The cause for the worsening relation between Russia and the West, the President told BILD, had to do with the fact that 25 years ago, when the Berlin wall fell “we didn’t manage to overcome the split of Europe. We did everything wrong. Invisible walls were shifted to the east of Europe. And there were a lot of misunderstandings on both sides which finally led to the crisis which we are confronted with today.”
Putin referred to former NATO General Secretary Manfred Woerner, who in 1990 had agreed that after the fall of the wall NATO will not expand into the East, as also many German politicians like for example Egon Bahr (SPD) had warned about. Putin during the interview quoted from a so far unpublished dossier containing discussions which Egon Bahr had in Moscow at that time (beginning 1990), corresponding to discussions that other politicians like former Chancellor H. Kohl, former foreign Minister Hans D. Genscher had with President Gorbachev in the course of 1990.
Putin recalled that on June 26th 1990 Egon Bahr had said: “If not decisive steps are taken, to prevent a split of Europe into new blocks, this will lead to the isolation of Russia.” In order to ban that danger, Putin recalled, “Bahr had made a very concrete proposal whereby the USA, the former Soviet Union and the respective states should define a new zone in Central Europe, in which NATO could not penetrate with its military structures”.
NATO’s expansion to the east could have been prevented, Putin emphasized, if there had been the will for it. But “NATO and the US wanted to have full victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit alone on the throne in Europe and they still sit there and we talk about all those crisis, which we wouldn’t have otherwise. This impulse for being absolutely triumphant you can also observe in the American plans for missile defense.”
President Obama’s argument in favor of missile defense in 2009 in reference to Iran’s nuclear threat, according to Putin has lost its credibility with the historic agreement with Iran. Yet ignoring this reality, as Putin stated, the US proceeds further by having recently made a treaty with Spain, preparing a stationing in Romania and Poland, as well as planning to establish a radar installation in Turkey.
Putin however also admitted in the interview that in those 25 years also Moscow made many mistakes and had a lot of problems after the disappearance of the SU, “for which nobody else but us was responsible: for the breakdown of the economy, the disruption of the social system, the separatism and naturally the terror attacks which rocked our country. On that we don’t have to look for guilty ones abroad.”
Exemplary for the deterioration in Russia-Western relations are the Russian-German relations (this does not refer to the relations between the two peoples which historically and culturally remain intact, as Putin stated), which have worsened especially during the last two years. Putin in the interview underlined that while in 2005 the trade volume between Russia and Germany had the size of 80 Billion Dollar per year, accompanied with the creation of thousands of work places in Germany, German-Russian trade has declined by half and is at the level of 40 Billion Dollars annually. Western sanctions, he stated, were “not designed to help Ukraine but to push back Russia geopolitically. They are stupid and cause damage on both sides.” He indicated that the effect of the sanctions could be seen in the international financial markets. “But even bigger is at the moment the damage due to the decline in energy prices.”
In respect to his personal relation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Russian President characterized it as “business like” and stated that Merkel despite the Ukraine crisis had kept the personal contact with him and tried to find a solution for Ukraine. He underlined that the reason why the Minsk II agreements are not implemented, is entirely “the fault of the Kiev government.” “The most important is the constitutional reform point 11 of the Minsk agreement.” This constitutional reform, as he said, that had to be passed already by 2015 as precondition to give Eastern Ukraine autonomy, and then to be followed by confidence building measures and the securing of borders was the fault of Kiev.
Putin made clear that contrary to the massive propaganda line by western media, Russia has “no claim to be a superpower“, yet it is also true that whoever wants “to diminish the significance of Russia in the world” (an in direct hint to Obamas statement calling Russia a regional power) only in reality wants to aggrandize himself and his country. That’s a mistake.”
Russia, he pointed out during the interview, has no particular block for having or resuming relations neither with the G8 nor with NATO. While it hopes that after the Turkey-Russia confrontations no military conflict will evolve, he stated being asked about Russia’s aims pursued in the Syrian conflict: “I can tell you definitely what we don’t want that Syria ends up like Iraq or Libya. Look at Egypt: We must praise General Sisi, since in an emergency situation he took responsibility and power, in order to stabilize the country. We should do everything to support the legitimate leader of Syria. That should not mean that everything remains the same. If the stabilization of the country develops further, a constitutional reform must follow and early presidential elections. Only the Syrian people decide who is to govern the country in the future.” dont ley sia is pursuing inthe ho fight against this goverbnmension , if it had not been stimulatetd from outside of Syr
Wiesbaden, January 23 2016