If you happen to read what I just read, without reading what I wrote yesterday, you might worry that a war is erupting over Syria. I just read that according to details belatedly filtering down from Moscow, Russia proposes to deploy a permanent operational force of its naval fleet in the Mediterranean. The Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu apparently announced this at a meeting of the top brass (which was also addressed by President Vladimir Putin) in Moscow on Wednesday.
A new cold war or at the very least, a sparring over Syria’s corpse? Indeed, military minds are analyzing. After all, it is a development dripping with nostalgia — the ‘return’ of the Fifth Soviet navy squadron to the Mediterranean.
But then, Shoigu spoke of defending and preserving Russia’s interests — not world peace or the ideology of socialism. That makes a difference.
What are these ‘interests’? Obviously, Russia’s national security comes first, followed by economic development and social stability and its capacity to play an effective role as a global power. In sum, Russia’s return to Mediterranean is imbued with ‘new thinking’ and a leitmotif of the Kremlin’s decision on naval deployment factors will be the expanding Russian interests in the Levant Basin, where geopolitics intersect energy security.
However, the Russian ‘interests’ go far beyond the eastern Mediterranean, as evident from the fact that President Francois Hollande travelled from Paris to Moscow to express his profound gratitude to the Kremlin for the Russian “support” for the French military intervention in Mali.
Hollande essentially referred to Russia’s silence apropos the French action. But, in the presence of President Vladimir Putin, Hollande added, “I know Russia will assist in the transformation of this [military] mission [in Mali] into a peacekeeping mission in the coming weeks.”
He had in mind the imperative need of Russian support when France seeks a mandate from the United Nations Security Council (where, incidentally, Russia occupies the presidency through March). Putin has responded that France remains a strategic partner for Russia.
Clearly, we no longer have a clash of strategic interests really in the Mediterranean between Russia and the West. Ironically, France and Russia are on the page when it comes to disapproving Qatar’s overreach in Mali — yes, the very same little Qatar, which partnered France in the military campaign for ‘regime change’ in Libya and joined hands to create the ‘Friends of Syria’ [FOS]. Contradictions are galore!
The big question is whether Hollande and President Vladimir Putin had a quiet aside on the crisis in Syria. France is, after all, an old player in Damascus and actually thought up the FOS forum (with Qatari money, of course.) Surely, Hollande gave Putin a lowdown on what really transpired at the FOS meet in Rome where the US secretary of state John Kerry has ‘finessed’ the Syrian opposition.
Hollande would have explained that the rhetoric and grandstanding in Rome would provide a useful backdrop when the leader of the Syrian opposition coalition Moaz al-Khatib pushes ahead with an intra-Syrian dialogue (possibly in Moscow by end-March) despite the robust ‘rejectionism’ within his own camp. Interestingly Russia is yet to comment on Kerry’s performance at Rome.
– March 1, 2013