The following is NSS’ translation from Russkaya Gazeta preceded by our commentary.
It is important to know some background when reading and discussing conferences like this involving many participants from various parts of the world, especially Middle Eastern countries.
For example, the foreign ministers of both Syria and Egypt are quoted herein and it is important to note that, while Egypt is often seen in the West as a close Saudi ally, it also has very close ties to Russia and leans more toward that country. This is a clue as to Egypt ally Saudi Arabia’s susceptibility to pressure from China to start accepting yuan in payment for its oil – a game changer that threatens the fate of the US dollar and hence the US’ ability to keep buying weapons and threatening global security like there is no tomorrow. If it happens, US military power will follow US prestige down the drain.
Recently, Putin came back from a visit with Egypt’s president Al-Sisi where a signing ceremony was held for an agreement regarding a nuclear facility to be built in that country. The meeting between the two presidents was reported in Arabic-language news site Al-Mustqbal, which mentioned that a Russian industrial park was also to be built along the Suez Canal. While Bloomberg also reported on both the nuclear plant and the industrial park, a seemingly minor detail was embedded in the Al-Mustaqbal report that was not to be found in Western or any English-language reports. During Putin’s remarks with reporters present, he happened to mention that he had just returned from a meeting with Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. He told President Al-Sisi in front of the gathering, that he would share with Al-Susi the details of this meeting with Assad. This is anything but a minor detail. It tells us that Putin has such a high degree of confidence in Al-Sisi that he can share confidential details concerning Syria’s future and Russia’s role therein, and further, that Al-Sisi in no way opposes the Russian-mediated settlement of this all-important issue. In fact, it is probably safe to assume from this that Al-Sisi approves that Russia, and not the US, will mediate the Syrian future and that he, like Putin, would like to see the US leave Syria. This, along with the fact that almost all MENA (Middle East and N. African) countries have recently purchased large amounts of Russian arms (even Saudi Arabia seems to be wrapping up an agreement for shipments of Russian S-400 air defence systems – against the hysterical objections from the US), is a clear indication that the Middle East is not America’s oyster any more.
Anyone who knows how to read between the lines knows that Russia, not the US, will be the arbiter of MENA’s fate in the near future, and there is no stopping this trend.
Valdai Club Members discussed how Russia "plays in all fields"
Russkaya Gazeta, February 19, 2018
by Evgeny Shestakov
The United States wants to "rob" Russia in Syria and to this end is prepared to unleash a war of attrition in the region. The question is what Moscow will undertake in order to avoid a negative scenario for itself and give a positive impetus to the Syrian settlement. Many participants of the Middle East conference of the Valdai International Discussion Club, which opened on Monday, spoke about Washington’s destructive role during the Syrian conflict.
Experts, political scientists and politicians from 34 countries were interested in what Russia intends to do in the future as a key player in Syria and, more broadly, in the Middle East. The role of our country was discussed in the context of the conflicts in Yemen and Libya, and in assessing the prospects of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement and the fate of the Kurdish enclaves. According to the participants of the conference, the status of the state, confirmed by Moscow based on diplomacy and military force, capable of playing on all the fields of the region as an "honest broker," requires that Russia articulate what it is seeking. Therefore, many Valdai guests came to Moscow in search of what the executive chairman of the Beirut Institute Ragid Dergam called “a strategy that was not articulated by Russia.”
In his speech at the forum, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about the significant risks that, along with the unconditional successes (the creation of de-escalation zones, the holding of the Syrian national dialogue in Sochi), remain on the Syrian track. Foremost of these are the actions of American partners aimed at undermining the territorial integrity of Syria. “I urge colleagues in the United States not to play with fire - this has already led to an aggravation of the situation,” the head of the Russian foreign ministry was quoted as saying by many news agencies. [NSS’ highlighting]
And another quote from Lavrov: “The success of the Syrian settlement depends on what the US will not yet do." The desire of the US administration to manipulate the Syrian map according to its own geopolitical interests has a destructive effect on the peace process and encourages separatist forces. According to the vice-president of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, Alexander Aksenenka, the West wants to help Syria without helping its president Bashar Assad. The natural outcome of this scenario was the de facto division of the Arab Republic, although de jure no one speaks aloud about it.
Most of the participants at the Valdai forum of experts, from both the Russian side and from the Arab countries, stressed that Moscow is not in a position to singlehandedly cut the Syrian knot and needs allies.
One of them was Iran [we remind the reader, however, that Iran is not an Arab country—NSS], whose Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also took part in the Middle East Valdai conference. Teheran, according to Zarif, is trying to “get away from the paradigm of conflicts.” As the head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry put it, we need to leave behind the old ideas of alliances and blocs - they do not work. Russia and Iran are in favour of forming in the region a comprehensive security network. Rather than individual unstable alliances Zarif outlined measures to build trust between countries of the Middle East - military visits, non-aggression pacts, tourism and joint investment. These steps, from his point of view, “pave the way for a real dialogue.”
For his part, Lavrov recalled that Russia is promoting in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region an initiative to create an indivisible, comprehensive security system. The same principle can be applied as the basis of the security system for the countries of the Middle East.
According to Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohamed El Badri, despite the often fierce criticism, Moscow is working with all sides in the Middle East region – with those it agrees with and with those it does not agree with.
Using a variety of methods, from military to diplomatic, Russia has gained authority and respect in the Middle East, where many global players were defeated. And the military presence in the region has become an important lever of influence, allowing the Kremlin to pursue a multi-vectorial policy. But this state of affairs imposes a great responsibility on the Russian side, as the Egyptian diplomat did not fail to recall. He listed in particular what is expected of Moscow in the Middle East. The list was impressive - Russia, in El-Badri’s view, must take into account the interests of regional players, support national systems, defend the principle of non-interference on international platforms, not impose their will on other countries and help regional players to form an atmosphere of trust.
However, the very fact of the list of geopolitical wishes addressed to Moscow bespeaks unconditional recognition of our country’s potentials on the Middle East track, where the situation remains explosive, and in a number of “hot spots” tends to deteriorate. Alexander Aksenenok, vice-president of the Russian Council for International Affairs, compared the current stage of the Syrian settlement with the “great slalom,” where for a successful descent down the mountain it is necessary to go around a lot of poles and the athlete’s performance directly depends on his agility as he detours obstacles that suddenly appear in his way.
Unlike most Western states, Russia does not have a colonial past in the Middle East. This gives Moscow a chance to act as an impartial mediator in the settlement of old conflicts and conflicts newly formed in the Arab Spring, whether it be searching for solutions in the stalled Palestinian-Israeli dialogue or in “gathering” into a single state what has become, according to Lavrov, the “black hole” of Libya.