Just to recap:
Russia is in the process of invading Ukraine and Putin is, outwardly at least, convinced that he will get away with it. The West is resolutely backing the wrong horse in Syria, with the CIA ‘secretly’ training the remnants of the FSA (Free Syrian Army) in Qatar and the only country which can honestly say that it is ‘winning’—maybe– at the moment is Iran– although there is a possibility that the West just might play hardball during the current negotiations taking place in Vienna.
The G20 summit in Australia has come and gone, with Putin being left in little doubt as to what western political leaders thought of his actions in Eastern Ukraine. Vladi brought a few ships with him to impress the locals and most likely the criticism that he had to endure was water off a ducks back, but even so he did not look a happy bunny most of the time.
In the meantime, the British army is holding a rehearsal, sorry I meant exercise, with the Polish army, on the border with the Ukraine. They are pretending that somebody is invading Poland—I wonder who they imagine that might be? Russia has responded by increasing the number of ‘reconnaissance’ flights over other peoples’ territory and are discovering that despite defence cuts in all western countries, all the flights are being intercepted. The weather in Europe remains warm, the price of oil remains low and is set to remain so or even drop further in the immediate future. Voters in Europe are a bit complacent at the moment so the politicians have a chance to get tough with Putin and nobody will notice for a while.
So what now?
There a two obvious flashpoints, the Middle East and Ukraine. The latest indications are that the Russian oil industry is feeling the pinch, with major western oil companies suspending joint projects with Russian exploration companies due to the current sanctions. Oil production has dropped according to a BBC report and the fact that OPEC has decided not to cut production—something that Russia wanted—has resulted in an immediate drop in the price of crude—something Russia desperately did not want—might give Putin pause for thought. Looking at the situation from his perspective he is not able to use oil as any sort of weapon at the moment and with the price of crude so low and likely to remain so, the risks involved in gaining military control of Middle Eastern oilfields are simply too great to even contemplate doing it. So where might this leave Russian intervention in Ukraine? Probably finely balanced, I would say. There are obvious long term benefits if Vladi can get away with it but all the signs are that whilst NATO might countenance a divided Ukraine they will be watching very closely and will reinforce the Baltic States and Poland, using what would be an independent West Ukraine as a buffer zone. The danger then would be that Putin tries to stir up unrest in those Baltic States that have a significant ethnic Russian population and NATO forces advance into West Ukraine to forestall any military shenanigans by Vladi’s lads. In a way the safest option all round would be to reinstate the cold war ASAP and then we’d all know where we stood—it is the uncertainty that is the real danger at the moment.
Iran is still trying to bamboozle the West but there is little or no doubt that the West knows exactly what they are trying to do and whilst a deal would be nice it will not be done at any price. With IS forces being pushed back both by the Peshmurga and a slightly invigorated Iraqi army, it might seem to a beleaguered Obama that he has a breathing space before he has to decide what to do in Syria/Iraq. Unfortunately time is a luxury that he does not have and possibly he realises it as he has just fired Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel. It’s not so much that Hagel’s job description changed—he could have coped with that– but the lack of a cohesive not to say comprehensible policy in the Middle East in general and Syria/Iraq in particular had been a public bone of contention between them for some time. Somewhat worryingly the words ‘regime change’ and ‘Syria’ keep cropping up in various presidential pronouncements. This is all fine and dandy but after Assad is removed, what then? If Obama thinks that the FSA will throw up a suitable presidential candidate for a united Syria’-or that he can ‘parachute one in– he will be a disappointed man. The most likely outcome of regime change would be an independent Kurdish entity in north eastern Syria, an Alawite entity– most probably with Assad still in charge– that would guarantee Russia a Mediterranean naval base and a bit of a hole in the middle, currently occupied by IS. Maybe Iraq, encouraged by Iran, would take the opportunity to ‘rationalise’ their border with what is currently Syria or maybe Saudi Arabia would adjust their border to forestall any Iranian expansion of interest. Here’s a thought, Obama could do a deal with Putin; Russia could have a puppet state in the Middle East if Putin pulls out of Ukraine….no I don’t really think so either.
In the meantime, according to a BBC report, Russians have started to stock up on essential foodstuffs. It just might be that Vladi will have enough to occupy him on the home front—but of course we all know the old political adage—problems at home? Start a war.
Breaking news is that an Egyptian court has just thrown out the charges against former president Hosni Mubarak–he who used to be a friend of Obama but then became persona non grata when Obama confused a grab for power by the Muslim Brotherhood with a democratic revolution. I won’t mention the possibility of Israel and Saudi Arabia cosying up to put the mockers on any Iranian plans and the idea that China and Russia might form some sort of strategic alliance is beyond the scope of this article but a subject I will return to.
We live in interesting times and the only strong western leader is Merkel…a potentially really frightening thought.