Friday, March 25, 2016

حديث الثورة- هل توافق روسيا وأميركا بشأن سوريا؟

DNA 25/03/2016 : وانتصرت ايران في اليمن...

SAS deployed in Libya since start of year, says leaked memo

King Abdullah of Jordan indicates US was briefed about plans for Jordanian special forces to operate alongside British
The Guardian
King Abdullah at a joint military training centre in Zarqa, north-east Jordan

عرب جرب
SAS forces have been deployed in Libya since the beginning of the year, according to a confidential briefing given to US congressional leaders by the king of Jordan.
A leaked memo indicates the US lawmakers were personally briefed by King Abdullah in January about plans for Jordan’s special forces to operate in the country alongside the British.
According to the notes of the meeting in the week of 11 January, seen by the Guardian, King Abdullah confirmed his country’s own special forces “will be imbedded [sic] with British SAS” in Libya.
According to the memo, the monarch met with US congressional leaders – including John McCain, the chairman of the Senate armed services committee, and Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. Also present was the House of Representatives speaker, Paul Ryan.

King Abdullah said UK special forces needed his soldiers’ assistance when operating on the ground in north Africa, explaining “Jordanian slang is similar to Libyan slang”.
The king also highlighted that British forces had helped in building up a mechanised battalion in southern Syria, headed by a local commander and made up of tribal fighters, to combat Bashar al-Assad’s army, and that his troops were ready with Britain and Kenya to go “over the border” to attack al-Shabaab in Somalia.
When contacted, the Ministry of Defence said it did not comment on special forces’ operations. None of the high-ranking US senators contacted by the Guardian responded to a request for interview.
However, one senate source confirmed US lawmakers met with the king in a private meeting in early January but refused to confirm “what may or may not have been discussed”.

Libyan soldiers at a military outpost west of the city of Sirte, Isis’s stronghold
 Libyan soldiers at a military outpost west of the city of Sirte, Isis’s stronghold in the country. Photograph: Ismail Zetouni/Reuters

The full passage of the briefing notes says: “On Libya His Majesty said he expects a spike in a couple of weeks and Jordanians will be imbedded [sic] with British SAS, as Jordanian slang is similar to Libyan slang.”
The monarch’s apparent openness with the US lawmakers is an indication of just how important an ally Jordan is to the US in the region. Since the 1950s Washington has provided it with more than $15bn (£10.5bn) in economic and military aid.
However, the Jordanians had become frustrated over perceived US inaction over the Middle East in recent months. Five years of fighting in Syria have dramatically impacted on Jordan, which has absorbed more than 630,000 Syrian refugees, and the king has repeatedly called for decisive action to end the conflict.

He told those present: “The problem is bigger than Isil [Islamic State], this is a third world war, this is Christians, Jews working with Muslims against outlaws.”
The memo indicates that Abdullah also told US lawmakers:
 The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “believes in a radical Islamic solution to the problems in the region” and the “fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy, and Turkey keeps getting a slap on the hand, but they get off the hook”.
 Intelligence agencies want to keep terrorist websites “open so they can use them to track extremists” and Google had told the Jordanian monarch “they have 500 people working on this”.
 Israel “looks the other way” at the al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra on its border with Syria because “they regard them as an opposition to Hezbollah”.
The king raised particular concerns over al-Shabaab, the Islamist militant group in Somalia that has links with both Isis and al-Qaida.
“Jordan is looking at al-Shabaab because no one was really looking at the issue, and we cannot separate this issue, and the need to look at all the hotspots in the map,” he said, adding: “We have a rapid deployment force that will stand with the British and Kenya and is ready to go over the border [into Somalia].”
Abdullah said “we started with al-Shabaab, as they feed into Libya”, which has descended into chaos since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi by Nato forces.

Al-Shabaab on parade in Mogadishu, Somalia
 King Abdullah said his troops were ready with Britain and Kenya to go ‘over the border’ to fight al-Shabaab, seen here on parade in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photograph: Feisal Omar/Reuters

In Britain, it is the Jordanian monarch’s confirmation of the SAS operating with his forces in north Africa that will raise eyebrows.
The issue of the oversight of the operations of British special forces has become a vexed matter in parliament. Earlier this week, David Cameron rejected a call from Angus Robertson, the Scottish National party’s Westminster leader, for the SAS to be subject to parliamentary oversight, saying they were already “subject to international law as everyone else is in our country but I do not propose to change the arrangements under which these incredibly brave men work”.
Crispin Blunt, the foreign affairs select committee chair, who has been concerned that parliament has been left in the dark about British involvement in Libya, told the Guardian he had known King Abdullah since they both served in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars.
“King Abdullah gives a level of insight that we don’t get from our own governments,” said Blunt. “He has given presentations to parliamentarians behind closed doors in the past. We don’t get that from our own ministers. When [the foreign office minister] Tobias Ellwood told us about RAF flights over Libya these were plainly in support of special forces missions. But when we asked for details we were told the government doesn’t comment on special forces.
“There is a tendency for the British establishment to work out everything very carefully and then present it to parliament as ‘a take it or leave it’ choice. And then ministers wonder why they have difficulties in parliament.”
In March, intelligence analysts at Stratfor said UK special forces were already in Libya and “escorting MI6 teams to meet with Libyan officials about supplying weapons and training to the Syrian army and to militias against the Islamic State. The British air force bases Sentinel aircraft in Cyprus for surveillance missions around [the Isis Libyan stronghold] Sirte as well.”

Accusations that Cameron’s lax attitude to Libya contributed to the country’s disastrous collapse resurfaced after Barack Obama suggested in an interview with Atlantic magazine this month that the chaos in north Africa was caused in part because the British prime minister was too distracted to oversee a smooth transformation to a new stable regime.
However, in recent weeks there has been a flurry of international activity to stabilise Libya, with British officials prominently pushing a peace process. Under a plan disclosed late last year, the UK will offer the new Libyan government 1,000 troops as part of an internationally coordinated effort.
Blunt says he has called on Cameron to give evidence to his committee, writing to Downing St to say that “given the prime minister’s key role in the development of international policy before, during and after the 2011 intervention – a role which is continuing now with the formation of the government of national accord – the committee believes it is only appropriate to extend this invitation to you in a spirit of courtesy, fairness and genuine inquiry”.
When contacted, Downing Street did not respond to questions about whether the prime minister would give evidence to MPs.
Jordanian embassies in London and Washington did not comment on the leaks.

الحسابات الروسيّة على ضوء وقف إطلاق النار في سورية

ألان غريش

ألان غريش

يقع مبنى وزارة الخارجيّة الروسي الضخم الستاليني الهندسة، في وسط موسكو، يطلّ عليه برج عالٍ. يسرع مئات الموظفين في ذلك الصباح، ليلتحقوا بمكاتبهم. يتطرّق مساعد وزير الخارجية ميخائيل بوغدانوف الذي يجيد العربيّة بامتياز، للمحادثات التي سيجريها الرئيس، فلاديمير بوتين، في اليوم نفسه مع نظرائه من العالم أجمع، الرئيسين السوري بشار الأسد والإيراني حسن روحاني والعاهل السعودي سلمان بن عبد العزيز، ومع رئيس الحكومة الإسرائيلية بنيامين نتنياهو، وكلّ المعنيّين من قريبٍ أو بعيد بالملفّ السوري. كان بوغدانوف سفيراً في تل أبيب والقاهرة، وشغل عدّة مرّات منصب سفير روسيا في دمشق. وهو، منذ أكتوبر/تشرين الأوّل 2014، الممثّل الخاصّ للرئيس الروسي في الشرق الأوسط وإفريقيا. 
الأمور واضحة بالنسبة لبوغدانوف: "ليس هناك من حلٍّ عسكري للأزمة السورية"، لكنّه يضيف: "لا نريد أن نظهر الأمور ببساطةٍ أكثر ممّا هي عليه؛ هناك قوى كثيرة، داخل سورية وخارجها، تعارض هذا المسار وتلحّ على ضرورة رحيلٍ مبكّر للرئيس الأسد. لا بدّ من التذكير بنتائج هذه الاستراتيجية في ليبيا والعراق". يعطي بوغدانوف الأولويّة للتنسيق مع الولايات المتحدة، ليس فقط على المستوى السياسي؛ سيتمّ إنشاء مركز مشترك لجمع المعلومات اللازمة لمتابعة وقف إطلاق النار، من أجل تحديد الأهداف العسكريّة المقبولة ومعاينة "المجموعات الإرهابية". 
يشرح أحد الخبراء الروس في شؤون الشرق الأوسط: "فوجئنا بالتزام بوتين شخصيّاً. قام بتنازلات، ولا سيّما في ما يتعلّق بحصر صفة الإرهاب بتنظيم الدولة الإسلاميّة وجبهة النصرة"، في حين أنّ موسكو كانت تطالب بوسم مجموعات أخرى بهذه الصفة. ويؤكّد الخبير نفسه: "وحتى ضباطنا فوجئوا، وكان الاندفاع قد أخذهم بحكم نجاحات الأسابيع الماضية". 
وماذا لو قبلت مجموعات، كأحرار الشام أو جيش الإسلام، بوقف إطلاق النار؟ "سندرس تصريحاتهم ونياتهم. كان هذا جواب بوغدانوف الذي يذكّر، على الرغم من ذلك، أن موسكو قبلت في مفاوضات السلام الأخيرة في جنيف، بحضور محمد علّوش، الذي تزعّم جيش الإسلام بعد مقتل أخيه زهران علّوش من جرّاء قصفٍ روسي. 

حصيلة إيجابيّة في نظر موسكو 
تسود في موسكو قناعة أنّ قرار التدخّل العسكريّ الذي أخذته في خريف 2015 لعب دوراً 

حاسماً لفتح صفحة جديدةٍ، وتفادي تكرار السيناريو الليبي الذي ما انفكّ يرعب الروس. أدّى قرار التدخّل العسكريّ الذي أخذه بوتين بنفسه إلى قلب ميزان القوى على الأرض، على الرغم من الاصطدام بمقاومةٍ فاجأت الروس في الفترة الأولى. وقد أكّد لنا ذلك، في ديسمبر/كانون الأول 2015 في بيروت، أحد قياديّي الصف الأوّل في حزب الله: فخلافاً لتوقّعاتهم، لم يتمكّن الروس من الحصول مباشرةً على النتائج المطلوبة. وقد اعتمد الروس التصعيد واللجوء إلى القصف المكثّف، من دون أيّ اعتبار لمصير المدنيين، وذلك للقضاء على تلك المقاومة بحكم عجز الجيش السوري من الاستفادة من التغطية الجوّيّة المتوفّرة. وفي نهاية ديسمبر 2015، انقلب ميزان القوى، وبدأ الجيش السوري، وقد أعاد الروس ترتيبه، بالتقدّم نحو حلب. 
الحصيلة الإنسانيّة لهذه الحملة مأساويّة، إلّا أنّ الروس حقّقوا ما كانوا يأملون تحقيقه. فرضت روسيا نفسها مقابل الولايات المتّحدة قوّة لا بدّ من أخذها بالحسبان في هذه الأزمة، ومتجاوزين بذلك إيران. فدعمت ركائز النظام السوريّ، ووضعته في موقعٍ أفضل في المفاوضات الآتية. جرّبت أسلحتها الجديدة، ولا سيّما طائرات سو-35-إس Su-35S الحربية، ودبابات تي-90 T-90، والصواريخ الباليستية انطلاقاً من البحر الأسود. وذلك بكلفة مادّيّة محدودةٍ نسبياً (3 مليارات دولار من أصل 44 مليار دولار، محسوبةٍ على ميزانيّة 2016)، كما أنّ روسيا استطاعت وضع قاعدة عسكريّة في اللاذقيّة، أوّل قاعدةٍ دائمة لها في المنطقة منذ نهاية التحالف مع مصر. وأخيراً، فرضت على دمشق إعادة تنظيم الجيش النظامي، والتي تصرّ روسيا على ضرورة المحافظة عليه، مهما كان الثمن، خصوصاً أنّه قد يشكّل العمود الفقريّ لدولةٍ سورية موحّدة. فهناك إلحاح، هنا، على ضرورة تفادي التدابير التي اتّخذتها واشنطن في العراق، بعد 2003: حلّ الجيش العراقيّ وحزب البعث. ويضيف بوغدانوف في هذا الصدد: "والأميركيون يوافقوننا الرأي هذه المرة". 

مخادعات النظام السوريّ 
هنا، يحمل وقف إطلاق النار قراءتين: أن يكون تمويهاً لمخادعة الغرب وتمكين الأسد من التقدّم من أجل استعادة السيطرة على كلّ سورية؛ أو تعبيراً عن إرادة روسيا التوصّل إلى اتّفاقٍ فعليٍّ، ما يفترض حلّاً وسطاً. 
في مؤتمرٍ نظّمه مركز فالداي في موسكو في 26 و27 شباط/فبراير الماضي، وجمع خبراء 

روسيين وأجانب في شؤون الشرق الأوسط، تواردت آراء مختلفة، بما فيها روسيّة: هكذا رسم سفير روسيّ سابق صورةً مغرية عن الرئيس السوري، مؤكّداً أنّ إعادة انتخابه أمر سهل، وأنّه سيدير البلاد من جديد في المستقبل، إلّا أنّ رأيه هذا لا يعكس الموقف الرسميّ الأكثر حذراً بكثير. فقد أبدى لنا أحد الرسميّين تخوّفه من مخادعات نظام دمشق. وتدلّ حادثة جرت، أخيراً، على الجوّ المتوتّر بين الحليفين. فبعد أن صرّح الرئيس الأسد أنّ هدفه استعادة السيطرة على كلّ الأراضي السورية، أتى فيتالي تشوركين، ممثّل روسيا لدى الأمم المتّحدة، بردٍّ حازمٍ في 18 فبراير/شباط: "استثمرنا كثيراً في هذه الأزمة، سياسيّاً ودبلوماسياً، وعسكريّا أيضاً. حبّذا لو يأخذ الرئيس الأسد ذلك بعين الاعتبار". وحين أعلنت السلطات السوريّة عن انتخاباتٍ نيابيّة في 13 إبريل/ نيسان المقبل، أكدّت الناطقة الإعلاميّة لوزارة الخارجيّة الروسيّة في 24 فبراير/شباط أنّ موسكو مصرّة على مسارٍ سياسيّ، يؤدّي إلى دستورٍ جديد، ومن ثمّ إلى انتخابات. 
ذلك أنّ الاحتفاء بالنصر ليس على جدول الأعمال في موسكو، فالجيش السوريّ حقّق انتصاراته بكلفة دمارٍ هائلة. ولئن استعاد السيطرة على كامل الأراضي السوريّة، والاحتمال قليل، لأنّ روسيا ترفض الانزلاق في رمالٍ متحرّكة، فمن سيدفع كلفة إعادة الإعمار التي تقدّر بعشرات مليارات الدولارات؟ فليس ذلك في وسع روسيا التي تعاني من أزمة اقتصادية حادّة، بسبب انهيار سعر النفط: وهل يمكن لروسيا أن تنجح في سورية، في حين أنّ الولايات المتّحدة أخفقت في العراق؟ 
في بداية أكتوبر/تشرين الأول 2015، أصرّ بوتين في خطابه أمام الحكومة بخصوص مسألة التدخّل في سورية قائلاً: "ليس لدينا أيّة نيّةٍ للانخراط بعمقٍ في الصراع (...)، سنواصل دعمنا لفترةٍ محدودة، وطالما أنّ الجيش السوريّ مًستمرّ في حربه ضدّ الإرهاب". 

حذر تجاه طهران 
في ما يتعلّق بالعلاقات مع إيران، فهي جيّدة، لكنّها بالتأكيد ليست استراتيجية. وفي موسكو، تجري تساؤلات عدّة حول نيات طهران، فكما أشار الرئيس حسن روحاني، أمام وسائل الإعلام الأميركيّة، في 25 سبتمبر/أيلول في نيويورك، على هامش الجمعيّة العموميّة للأمم المتّحدة: "لا يوجد تحالف بين إيران وروسيا في ما يتعلّق بالحرب ضدّ الإرهاب"، وخلال مداخلته في مؤتمر فالداي، ذكر أحد الإيرانيّين أنّ فلسفة بلده تقوم على عدم تدخًّل القوى الخارجيّة في شؤون دول الخليج، بما فيها روسيا. 
يبدو خطاب فيودور لوكيانوف، وهو رئيس تحرير مجلّة Russia in Global Affairs أكثر وضوحاً: "رحيل الأسد مقبول لدينا، لكنّه غير مقبول لدى الإيرانيّين". ويؤكّد على جانب 

مهمٍّ في القرار الروسي: "منذ ربيع 2015، وافتنا الأجهزة الاستخبارية بتقارير مثيرة للرّيبة عن انخراط متطوعين روس من آسيا الوسطى في صفوف تنظيم الدولة الإسلاميّة". يقدّر عددهم ببضعة آلاف. وقد أعلن رئيس الوزراء، ديميتري مدفيديف، في 1 أكتوبر/ تشرين الأول 2015، على القناة الروسية الأولى "نريد أن نحمي الشعب الروسي من التهديد الإرهابي، ومحاربته في الخارج أسهل من محاربته داخل البلاد". وهذه حجّة استعملها زعماء أوروبيّون كثيرون، على مدى الأعوام الخمسة عشر الأخيرة، وكذّبها الواقع بوضوح
يعترف الجميع أنّ مستقبل اتّفاق وقف إطلاق النار يعتمد على الفاعلين المحليين. فقد ولّى زمن الدول العظمى التي تقرّر عوضاً عن حلفائها. لا تدفع مداخلة بثينة شعبان، مستشارة الرئيس الأسد، التي تفسّر الأزمة السوريّة على أنّها "مؤامرة من الخارج" ضدّ بلدٍ "علماني" و"عربي" على التفاؤل. ويعترف أحد المسؤولين الفلسطينيّين المقيمين في دمشق، والذي كان موجوداً في موسكو، بأنّه "لم يكن هناك لدى حكومة دمشق أيّة نيّةٍ بالتفاوض، فهي تعتبر المجموعات المسلّحة كلّها إرهابيّة. تريد النصر الكامل". ولكنّه أكّد، بعد لقائه بمسؤولين روس، أنّ روسيا لا تريد الانزلاق "وتمديد تدخّلهم من خمسة أشهر إلى خمسة أشهر إلى ما لانهاية"، فحرب أفغانستان لم تسقط في النسيان، وتذكّر موسكو أنّه لم يتمّ إرسال أيّ جندّيّ إلى الجبهة السوريّة. 

"القيصر والسلطان" 
في حين يبدو أنّ السعوديّة دعمت اتّفاق وقف إطلاق النار، ودفعت المعارضة السوريّة بهذا الاتّجاه، تبدي تركيا تحفّظاتها بوضوح، فهي تطلب تصنيف حزب الاتّحاد الديمقراطي الكردي PYD تنظيماً إرهابيّاً غير مشمول باتّفاق وقف إطلاق النار، على الرغم من أنها توقّفت عن قصف شمال سورية الذي يسيطر عليه ذلك الحزب الذي أعلن أنّه سيحترم وقف إطلاق النار. وهو القوّة الوحيدة التي تحظى بدعم نشطٍ من الولايات المتّحدة وروسيا. يعترف ممثّل الحزب في موسكو بأنّ ذلك الدعم المزدوج يشكّل ضغطاً، لأنّ الحزب يرفض "الخيار"، فخلال يناير/كانون الثاني الماضي، افتتحت "الإدارة الذاتية" لمنطقة روجافا الواقعة تحت سيطرة حزب الاتّحاد الديمقراطي الكردي في شمال سورية مكتباً لها في موسكو. 
ويشكّل تدهور العلاقات بين موسكو وأنقرة، منذ رفضت الأخيرة تقديم اعتذار، بعد إسقاطها طيّارةٍ حربيّةٍ روسيّةٍ في 24 نوفمبر/ تشرين الثاني، عاملاً يدفع إلى الاحتراس والقلق. وقد زادت شخصيّة الزعيمين بوتين وأردوغان (القيصر والسلطان) من حدّة هذا التصعيد، مع أنّه تمّ الحفاظ على العلاقات بين البلدين طوال سنوات الحرب الباردة، وحتى خلال السنوات الأولى من الحرب السورية، على الرغم من الخلافات في وجهات النظر، إلا أنّنا نشهد، منذ ذلك التاريخ، تصعيداً شفويّاً وعمليّاً. فرض بوتين عقوباتٍ على المنتجات المستوردة من تركيا، وأعطى نصائح صارمة للمواطنين الروس بعدم الذهاب إلى تركيا. ولا بدّ طبعا من استثناءات: فاستثمارات تركيا في مجال البناء في روسيا تقدّر بـ16 مليار دولار، ولا سيّما في تحضير الألعاب الأوروبيّة في 2018، إلّا أنّ التنديدات المتبادلة تحول دون إيجاد شروط تنسيق مناسبة في سورية. 

خطّة بديلة؟ 
غداة اتّفاق وقف إطلاق النار، أعلن وزير الخارجية الأميركي، جون كيري، أنّه من الضروريّ التفكير بخطّة بديلة، إن فشل تنفيذ هذا الاتّفاق، من دون أن يحدّد بالضبط معالم هذه الخطّة. استاءت موسكو كثيراً من هذا التصريح، ورأت فيه تهديداً بالتصعيد، ربّما عن طريق زيادة الدعم "للمتمرّدين" السوريّين، إلّا أنّ الجميع يعلم أنّ فشل الاتّفاق في التوصّل إلى انطلاق المفاوضات يعني أنّ التصعيد العسكريّ هو الحلّ الوحيد الموجود. وموسكو تعرف أنّها ستدفع الثمن غالياً في هذه الحالة. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016


DNA 24/03/2016 : روحاني يرد على خامنئي

جنيف 3 في 10 أبريل.. والتركيز على الانتقال السياسي



DECEMBER 5, 2025......



جنيف 3 في 10 أبريل.. والتركيز على الانتقال السياسي




دور للحوثيين والأردن بتهريب يهود اليمن لإسرائيل

عرب جرب


كشفت صحيفة إسرائيلية أن تل أبيب دفعت مبالغ مالية لمليشيا الحوثي المدعومة من إيران لكي يتسنى إخراج 17 يهوديا يمنيا من العاصمةصنعاء، وأن العملية تمت بمساعدة من الأردنوبتنسيق من الوكالة اليهودية للهجرة.
وقالت صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت في عددها الخميس إن هؤلاء هم آخر يهود اليمن وقد وصلوا إلى إسرائيل بداية الأسبوع الحالي بعد توقفهم بمطار الملكة علياء في عمّان، دون أن يصدر عن الأردن أي رد فعل رسمي على العملية التي جرت في سرية.
وعزت الصحيفة السرية التي اكتنفت عملية نقل اليهود إلى ما وصفته بالوضع الأمني السيئ باليمن، ومظاهر العداء للسامية ولليهود فضلا عن صعوبات لوجستية، مما حدا بالوكالة اليهودية إلى الاستعانة بالخارجية الأميركية التي ساهمت في الماضي في عمليات نقل يهود من اليمن إلى إسرائيل.
ونقلت يديعوت أحرونوت عن مصدر إسرائيلي -لم تفصح عن هويته مكتفية بوصفه بالرفيع- القول إن خطة نقل اليهود من اليمن جرى العمل فيها منذ أكثر من عام مضيفا أن عشرات اليهود توافدوا في الأشهر الأخيرة من تلك الدولة إلى إسرائيل عبر عمليات "معقدة لم نشهد لها مثيلا من قبل".
وأوضحت الصحيفة أن هذه العملية أُديرت من على البعد نظرا لأنها تتعلق بدولة "معادية" تفتقر إلى رحلات طيران محددة ومطاراتها مغلقة في كثير من الأحيان، وطرقها تعج بالحواجز الأمنية مما اضطر القائمين عليها أن ينقلوا عددا محدودا من اليهود كل مرة.

Monday, March 21, 2016

في العمق- سوريا.. سيناريوهات ما بعد الهدنة



DNA 21/03/2016 : إنترنت غير شرعي..وإنترنت حلال


أردوغان يتوعد تنظيم الدولة والمتمردين الأكراد


A strategy of spectacle

His willingness and ability to act abroad gives Vladimir Putin a big boost at home

The Economist


DMITRY KISELEV, anchor of Vesti Nedeli, a weekly television show, and Russia’s chief propagandist, has had much to say about victory in recent weeks. The Syrian ceasefire that began on February 27th, he told his viewers, was “definitely a Russian victory”, made possible by Russia and America, two great powers, taking joint responsibility for the world’s biggest crisis. The Americans had been convinced “to work with us and forget about their exceptionalism” both by Russia’s diplomacy and by its display of military might: the precision of its bombs, the efficiency of its pilots and the range of its missiles—“which, by the way, can carry nuclear explosives.”
His words were music to the ears of Larisa Kirillova, a pensioner from Kursk. Yes, her pension is no longer rising while food prices are soaring; yes, her daughter has lost her job: but Russia is once again a great power. “Of course things are tough, but we are encircled by enemies and will bear this crisis,” she says resolutely.
On March 13th, walking along the flightline at Khmeimim, the base in Latakia from which the Russian air force has been launching its Syrian operations, Mr Kiselev rejoiced in “the victory of good over evil” and the mix of Russian firepower and acumen that had brought it about. “Russian planes are beautiful and splendid...Our strikes are more precise and efficient than [America’s]. We are making deals with the moderate opposition faster and deliver humanitarian aid more quickly. While the Americans are only coming to, we are already making friends, feeding and [medically] treating them.” The only thing that could have made the message plainer would have been a banner in the background saying “Mission Accomplished”.
The next day, as peace talks were set to get under way in Geneva (see article), Vladimir Putin went on television to announce the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria: “The task set for the Ministry of Defence and the military forces has been accomplished.” Bashar al-Assad has been bolstered (though not to the extent that he might have wished), America has been exposed as ineffective and dithering, troublesome Turkey has been sidelined. But though those are all welcome achievements for Mr Putin, there is another overarching one.
When Russia started its bombing campaign in September, Barack Obama warned that Syria was “not some superpower chessboard contest, and anybody who frames it in that way isn’t paying very close attention to what’s been happening on the chessboard.” But if Mr Obama did not see it that way, Mr Putin did; and though what would come about on the chessboard mattered to him, the simple fact of playing mattered more.
The purpose of Russia’s action in Syria was not just to shore up the regime of Mr Assad, nor to resolve the largest humanitarian crisis of the century so far. Indeed, to the extent that that crisis is a problem for the European Union (EU), Russia is all for it. Mr Putin wanted to force the West to recognise that, for all that it may deplore Russia’s actions in Ukraine and seek to isolate it with sanctions, Russia is a global power—the player on the other side of the board.The process of asserting itself as a great power is more important than the result it achieves,” says Maria Lipman, the editor of Counterpoint, a journal.
Mr Obama believes that Mr Putin’s adventures in Ukraine and Syria betray a fundamental misunderstanding of how power works in foreign policy. “Real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence,” Jeffrey Goldberg recently quoted him as saying in the Atlantic magazine. But for foreign policy to bolster Mr Putin’s domestic agenda by satisfying people like Ms Kirillova, exerting violence is crucial. It is not just a means for getting what Mr Putin wants, but a goal in itself. Just so long as it is seen on a screen.
Yadda Yalta yadda
Mr Putin’s first two presidential terms, which ran from 2000 to 2008, were sold under the banner of political stabilisation and economic growth. The third, begun in 2012, has brought neither of these things (see chart 1). Russia is not becoming any more stable and it is getting distinctly worse off. The economy contracted by 4% last year. Disposable incomes have been falling since 2013. Thus the need for this current term to be reconfigured as a wartime presidency, its successes presented with polish by men and women like Mr Kisilev.
The underpinning of this policy requires the world to be read in a number of seemingly contradictory ways. America must be seen as both a model for modernisation and a source of evil to be resisted. Russia must be seen as both unconstrained and beleaguered—a duality that harks back to the years of Stalinism, which saw the Soviet Union both as a beacon leading the world into an inevitable communist future and as a fortress besieged by enemies and shot through with spies.
The Soviet Communist Party once ruled that no international issue could be resolved without Soviet participation or against its will. Mr Putin lacks the firepower or economic resources of the Soviet era, but lays great stock in the geostrategic position it aspired to, and which it surrendered with its collapse. He wants to return to the times of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements when America, the Soviet Union and Britain divided Europe into Soviet and Western spheres of influence.
And the Russian people want that, too. One of the greatest hopes the public had for Mr Putin when he first became president in 2000 was that he would restore Russia to the position the Soviet Union had once held. According to polls carried out at the time, people cared about this considerably more than they cared about the recovery of savings lost in the early 1990s, social justice or the fight against corruption. Only the rule of law and stopping the war in Chechnya came close.
It is not, after all, just America which believes itself a special nation. Soviet citizens were assured that they had a special place in the world and its history. But by 1991 half the Russian population felt that their country had reached a dead end. Journalists spoke slightingly of a homeland that had suffered one of the deepest traumas in its troubled history. The almost masochistic pleasure many took in national self-deprecation was the obverse of earlier and future exceptionalism.
Small wonder that by 2000 many craved a restoration, and that they remain grateful to Mr Putin for providing it (see chart 2). In 1996 36% of Russians were proud of their country’s political influence in the world; at the end of last year the figure was 68%. Pride in the military surged from 40% to 85% over the same period.
Lev Gudkov of Levada Centre, a pollster, says the growth in pride and self-worth is inseparable from anti-Americanism: “Russia’s collective identity is a negative one: people are consolidated only in the face of a perceived threat from the outside enemy.” Unwilling and unable to influence Russian domestic politics, people are easily induced to focus their anger on America and the West. In doing so, Mr Gudkov argues, they project on to America the qualities of their own country’s ruling class: cynicism, disrespect for human rights, greed and corruption.
This attitude towards the West allows Russians to absolve themselves of responsibility for any wrongdoing and assume the role of a victim. Some 80% of Russians, while saying that they feel no personal animosity towards the West, blame its hostility for the confrontations that pit it against their country. The Kremlin portrays the annexation of Crimea and the bombing of Syria as defensive; according to Russian propaganda it was America that staged the coup in Ukraine in order to claw it away from Russia. The best way to stop the advances of the EU and NATO towards Russian borders is to try to undermine and rupture both alliances.
You furnish the pictures...
It was in the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2008-09 that this anti-Americanism became the main staple of the regime. The popularity of Mr Putin fell in the wake of the crisis—and though GDP growth soon returned, his previously sky-high ratings did not. In late 2011 and early 2012 tens of thousands of middle-class citizens took to the streets demanding a modern, European-style state.
The annexation of Crimea in early 2014 turned things around. It distracted people’s attention from their daily lives, in which the state was a menace, to a historic narrative where the state is a source of Russia’s greatness. Television news ratings, which had been falling for almost a decade, perked up; Mr Putin’s popularity soared to new heights. “His mandate today is far bigger than the job of the president; he is the embodiment of Russian statehood,” says Ms Lipman.
It is thanks to this role as the avatar of a resurgent nation that Mr Putin is staying popular during one of the worst economic crises in modern Russian history. As recently as the first air strikes in Syria, many believed that the current recession would be short-lived and bearable, like its predecessor. Not so. Though recession hit only in the third quarter of 2014, the economy had begun to slow at the end of 2012, when oil prices were still high and Crimea was still part of Ukraine. Natalia Zubarevich, an expert on Russian regions, argues that bad institutions and poor governance have brought about a slow, grinding downturn that risks turning into a long-term degradation. The model of economic growth fuelled by the redistribution of growing oil rents has run its course.
The latest oil-price shock, coupled with Western sanctions which have cut Russia off from Western capital markets, made matters worse. Foreign direct investment fell by a staggering 92% last year. “A country in which investment has fallen for three years in a row is a country that is squeezing its future,” says Ms Zubarevich. “There is a feeling, among the elite, that while the train of history runs ahead, Russia is left behind,” says Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist.
The brunt of the crisis of 2008-09 was borne by business; the public was sheltered by spending increases. This time the population has suffered. Large firms are under strict instructions not to lay people off, but they have cut hours and salaries. The high share of imports in Russian consumption means that the devaluation of the rouble hurts everybody. In dollar terms the average monthly salary in the year to January 2015 fell from $850 to $450.
Yet this does not mean that Russians are about to take to the streets. The urban middle class has not been moved to public protest in the style of 2011-12. “When everything is being squeezed, a Soviet instinct kicks in: people survive in small groups, bonding with friends and relatives,” says Ms Zubarevich. The fact that it is relatively easy for the successful to leave the country provides the system with a safety valve.
There have been some sector-specific protests by lorry drivers and doctors. But so far the protesters are appealing to Mr Putin more than they are attacking him. Recent polls show that most Russians are happy to give up Western goods and travel to America and Europe for the sake of Russia’s standing in the world. But they are not prepared to lose their jobs, or to see their salaries and pensions frozen. And that is the way the economy is heading.
The Kremlin is making contingency plans. The riot police have been exempted from pay cuts and last December Mr Putin signed a law allowing the FSB, the state security agency, to open fire on crowds. Yet, for all his authoritarianism, Mr Putin is not a bloodthirsty dictator, but a cautious former KGB officer. He prefers mass manipulation to brutal repression.
...I’ll furnish the war
The country’s state television channels have been his favoured tool to that end. As part of the process the president has made himself, in the words of Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, a “TV personality”. Mr Putin has dressed up (or stripped down) to compete in judo matches, fly a microlight with migrating storks and recover sunken treasure on prime time. War leader is a weightier role—but not one of an entirely different sort.
Kirill Rogov, an independent political analyst, argues that support for Mr Putin’s regime depends on television’s ability to draw the public away from their everyday experiences and into its news agenda. When people switch off the news, look around them and see the economy in a bad way, by and large Mr Putin’s ratings fall, too. The annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine saw the news and the president bounce back again (see chart 3). People who had previously distanced themselves from politics were mesmerised by dramatic imagery, martial music, well staged and edited action.
Russian television does not simply cover wars that are driven by foreign policy. It takes foreign adventures as raw material from which to generate events that stoke domestic passions and reinforce the government narrative. For example, fake stories such as the one about “fascists” crucifying a Russian boy in eastern Ukraine helped to mobilise the population there against the Ukrainian government in 2014. A recent bogus story about a Russian girl being raped by migrants in Germany led to anti-migrant rallies by ethnic Russians in Berlin; it became a contentious issue between Russia and Germany, generating yet more footage for Russian television.
Domestic news is given short shrift, since people’s personal experiences would allow them to see through official lies. What there is is dominated by orderly meetings of Kremlin officials. Death and destruction for the most part only occur abroad. The 31 miners and five rescue workers who perished in Vorkuta in February were barely covered on the nightly Russian news; the macabre story of an Uzbek nanny brandishing the severed head of a four-year-old girl outside a Moscow metro station received almost no mention on the state channels. Had the coal miners died in Ukraine or the girl been decapitated in Germany, Russian television would have spent days bombarding the audience with special reports, talk shows and investigations.
For now they have the spectacle of warriors returning from Syria; jubilant crowds waving flags; women in traditional dress offering pilots bread and salt. This pageantry does not necessarily mean that Russia has disengaged completely: some Russian forces will stay at their base in Latakia and may continue to offer support to Mr Assad. But it does mean that there will now be slots to fill on the nightly news, and that makes Russia’s neighbours nervous. Soon after reporting the exit from Syria, Russia’s main news channels aired footage of renewed fighting in the Donbas, leading some in Ukraine to wonder whether the withdrawal may prove a redeployment.
In truth, though, any of the former Soviet republics with a sizeable ethnic Russian population could be at risk. As a secret-service operative, Mr Putin excels in concealing his intentions. This tactical nous, Ms Hill argues, has allowed him to stay one step ahead of his opponents at home and abroad. From the war against Georgia in August 2008—the original template for Russia’s strategy of spectacle—to the operation in Syria, Russia’s adventures have repeatedly caught the West by surprise.
In February Mr Obama announced plans to quadruple military spending in central and eastern Europe—including the Baltic states—to $3.4 billion. That makes deterrent sense. But Mr Putin’s ultimate goal is not to have a full-scale war with NATO. The sort of conflicts he needs to stay in power do not require him to fight over territory; just to keep the ratings up and feed the public’s appetite for a story in which they deservingly come out on top.
Such conflicts, though, do have a limitation: Mr Putin cannot afford to sustain big losses. The Syrian footage focused on aircraft soaring high above any risks; when a few Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine, the Kremlin did everything it could to cover it up. It is these concerns, rather than fear of further sanctions, that have kept Russia from moving deeper into Ukraine or risking a serious confrontation with Turkey. They have doubtless been a factor in not hanging around in Syria, either. However proud and grateful television may make the Russian people feel to Mr Putin, they are not prepared to sacrifice the lives of their children and loved ones for him. As Ms Kirillova from Kursk says, “We can tolerate anything, as long as there is no war.