Space For Rent
Wednesday, May 25, 2016, Jaistha 11, 1423 BS, Shaban 17, 1437 Hijri

Time for some tough talk with Putin over Syria
Mustapha Karkouti
Published :Wednesday, 25 May, 2016,  Time : 12:00 AM  View Count : 24
So far, the race to save Syria has failed to produce any meaningful result. The bloody death and savage suffering are, sadly, continuing. The only thing that's strikingly clear is: Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting what he wants in Syria and beyond. Despite the joint call by the United States and Russia to stop hostilities and establish calm for humanitarian reasons, Moscow again seems to be still edging ahead of the Washington-led alliance.
Putin seems to be fully satisfied with the current situation as he is gaining all the carrots without being challenged. This is not limited to Syria only as the West has shamefully demonstrated similar hesitation in the past two years over the action taken by Russia in the Crimean Peninsula and before that in eastern Ukraine.
The writing has been on the wall for long and yet the US and its European allies have failed to show any seriousness or taken prompt action. For Putin, he was retrieving Russian land that his country had 'donated' to Ukraine some 60 years ago. In fact, his actions have deeply shaken up the arrangements that shaped post-Cold War relations in Europe. The way Russia has been aggressively flexing its muscles from the Ukraine to the warm waters of the Mediterranean is a genuine cause for concern for a lot of European countries, including some of the Nordic states. The fear in some of these quarters that a serious conflict is about to erupt is growing.
This development has persuaded NATO governments to reconsider their armament policies as some of them have already taken drastic steps. US President Barack Obama's administration found itself making arrangements to respond to Putin's moves and taking measures to reinforce its advanced locations in Europe. The Pentagon has reportedly decided to store battle tanks and other heavy equipment, including infantry armoured vehicles with about 5,000 troops in the three Baltic states: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as well as in Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.
Such a move, once it is approved by the US Congress, will be the most significant deployment of military hardware in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Britain has already confirmed its commitment to make available 1,000 troops to a rapid-reaction force in the Baltic, known as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. The announcement came after a meeting of NATO defence ministers gathered in Brussels in February 2015 to discuss ways to face up to Russia's military intentions in the region.
Russia reacted to NATO's move by hinting at the possibility of sending troops into the Baltic countries for "security" reasons and to "protect" the Russian-speaking communities there. Putin has already blamed NATO for what he has termed its "plan of expansion" in Europe, forcing his country's heightened military readiness. In fact, this has been Moscow's attitude since the three Baltic states joined NATO back in 2004. But NATO leadership refrained then from stationing heavy equipment or troops in the three countries to avoid tension with Russia.

ISIS targets
However, when it comes to Syria, NATO, with its 24 air bases in Turkey, has not reacted at all to the Russian military build-up that started in September 2015 in the neighbouring country. The US Air Force, the primary user of the Turkish Incirlik Air Base in the city of Adana, merely 32km from the Mediterranean, limits its action to air attacks against targets belonging to ISIS (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
Putin didn't hide his intention in Syria and he is working there on the basis of a long-term build-up. With hardly any meaningful response from the West, he has openly engaged with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad when he officially received him in the Kremlin last October, which was Al Assad's first and only foreign visit since he started the bloody war in his country five years ago. Meanwhile, it is Russian air power more than anything else that has altered the facts on the ground and subsequently changed the fortunes of Al Assad and his government. Oddly enough, the western view maintains the same position since Al Assad unleashed his killing machine in 2011; that the situation in Syria is "appallingly complex" or "there is no military solution", and has gone even further to declare that it is difficult "to blame any party for the continuation of the war".
Meanwhile, Putin has shown western leaders what can be done and effectively achieved. While NATO leaders were pondering what to do in Syria, the Russian president made his choice and took the military route to save Al Assad. Additionally, Putin found in Iran - with its 10,000 Hezbollah fighters and other militias recruited by Tehran and directly guided by Iranian commanders - its perfect ally.
Putin has manipulated the Syrian tragedy to Russia's best interest with the western alliance hardly doing anything.
Mustapha Karkouti is a former president of the Foreign Press Association, London

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