Russia, the Constantinople, and World War
Dr. Wael Shadid
Strategist and Author
Events in the Middle East are evolving rapidly, with great dynamism and moving towards complexity, faster than observers expect. From the Iraqi complication to the Syrian complexity coinciding with the Libyan and Yemeni complications, and above all the complexity in Palestine. The Russian Caesar crams himself into every complication as he could, as in Libya, Syria, and supporting Iran, and so on. It seems that the region is heading towards the unknown and it has become necessary to try to anticipate the directions of possible strategic developments in the Middle East by the Russian bear. The follower of the Russian geostrategic moves finds that Russia jumped to eastern Ukraine and annexed the Crimean peninsula on March 18 of 2014. Then it jumped again after a year and a half to Syria on September 30, 2015, and the question now is where will the third jump be? This is what the paper will try to answer.
The strategic context of the Russian intervention in Syria
Russia finds itself far from warm water, especially as Russia’s only waterway is through the Turkish Bosporus corridor, and Russia believes that its naval base in Latakia constitutes an important and strategic outlet in the warm waters. At the same time, Russia found itself in a critical economic situation after imposing sanctions on it because of the conflict in Ukraine and its occupation of Crimea. The Russian currency deteriorated in 2014, losing the ruble 41% of its value by the end of the same year, and the Russian currency continued to decline from 36 rubles until it reached approximately 66.2 rubles against the US dollar in March 2020.
The Russian position in the Middle East came in a combination of factors such as the economic pressure through sanctions imposed on Russia and political confrontation with the West over Ukraine. Moreover, the American retreat from the Middle East region and leaving things there to the allies, the great strategic vacuum in the region, and the United States’ inability to package matters in Syria. In addition to the weakness of the United States’ allies in the region (Turkey and the Gulf states) since the beginning of the Syrian crisis where they were not able, to impose a solution to the disaster in Syria. All this pushed and encouraged Russia to undertake this second geostrategic adventure
Russia believes that this intervention will achieve six main goals:
- Preserving its presence in warm waters by maintaining the only Russian naval base in the Mediterranean
- Protecting Russia from so-called Islamic terrorism and fighting it in lands far from Russia
- Standing visibly in the face of the West and proving that Russia is already involved in the international equations in general and the Middle East equation in particular.
- Attempting to impose a new reality in the Middle East, which represents a geostrategic depth for the United States and the West, to bargain for in Ukraine and to abolish sanctions against Russia.
- Appearing as the protector and patron of the Orthodox Church in the Levant, where Russia is approaching the Orthodox Christians in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In addition, Russia claims that it faces a holy confrontation in Syria.
- Marketing Russian weapons, selling nuclear energy, and greed for the Syrian on-shore and expected gas on the Syrian coast.
These goals are generated from a geostrategic dimension, except for the goal of selling weapons and nuclear energy, which is essentially an economic goal but its results support the Russian geostrategic dimension.
The tone of the challenge seemed clear in Putin’s speech on 28/9/2015 to the United Nations, where he expressed that the difference exists between people and that no one should consider that his method is the best and binding on others. He also expressed clearly and frankly that the United Nations has completed its historical mission and it is now an old hapless entity.
He also expressed that after the Cold War, a group that possesses power considered itself an exception, and it rose to the top of the pyramid and gave itself preference in knowledge. Therefore, they claim the preference in knowing what should be done and became taking decisions that cause problems and can cause the collapse of the United Nations system leaving the world without a rule other than the rule of power.
Putin accused others of having interfered in the Middle East strongly, collapsing government institutions, resolving violence and poverty, and creating social disasters instead of achieving democracy and progress, and considered that the policy of vanity, the sense of exceptionalism, and arrogance still exist.
He also clearly stated that the so-called moderate opposition in Syria is a group of fundamentalists trained by the West and they are aligned with the Islamic State. Moreover, he considered that the West exploits the militant groups and pushes them to work with specific parties to use them to achieve the west political interests in the hope that it deals with them in the future or is dissolved and disposed of them.
Putin also stressed that Russia will not tolerate any more regarding the current international situation. He stressed the importance of restoring government institutions in Libya and Iraq and providing comprehensive assistance to the official Syrian government.
He also admonished others seeking to acquire new geostrategic spheres of influence. He considered that sanctions are a circumvention of the United Nations Charter in order to achieve political goals and to undermine competitors
Ironically, Putin objects others, and at the same time makes what is forbidden. He gives himself the right to accuse the moderate opposition of radicalism, gives himself the right to intervene to protect his country’s security and rejects it from others, and threatens a new world war if someone opposes him thinking that he is in line with United Nations standards.
The Russian-Iranian alliance in Syria
The Middle East region suffers from a great geostrategic vacuum, as the main Arab countries are completely redundant. Egypt has been absent from the region since the era of Hosni Mubarak, and Saudi Arabia does not play a positive strategic role and cannot move away from the geostrategic limits of the United States of America.
Whereas, Iran is the only active player in the geostrategic vacuum attempting to achieve its strategic goals in the region, so it rushed strongly on the axis of (Iraq – Syria – Lebanon) to form a strategic arm extending from Tehran to Baghdad, Damascus, and the southern suburb of Beirut. Iran has effectively used this strategic arm, led by the Revolutionary Guards, and it placed its generals and militants on the ground in Syria specifically to restore the situation there to what is in line with the Iranian interest. In light of this, Iran is rushing to cooperate with the Russians, and Russia finds in this offer a good interest for it. Therefore, the two interests met; the interest of Iranian conservatives who dream of a Persian Shiite empire, and the interest of Putin dreaming of the Russian empire.
The Russian bear is appointing to Constantinople
There is no doubt that at the beginning, the Russian leadership has set the optimum vision for the results of this intervention in Syria. It is expected that the optimal picture from the Russian perspective is to preserve the Syrian regime and restore its control over the state in order to preserve Russian interests in Syria, such as the naval base while expanding it to receive larger battleships. Also, creating and adding airbases. In addition to keeping Russia as an influential player in the Middle East, and forcing the West to deal with Russia as a superpower with untouchable interests. Especially after the inability to deter Putin from occupying the Crimea, as well as putting Russia on the map of peer and par with the West. In addition, earning a new card that allows Russia to barter in Ukraine. As for the minimum that may be in the Russian perception is the creation of a smaller Syria, “Latakia Syria,” through which the minimum Russian interests can be achieved.
However, at the beginning, Russia has stated that it wants to maintain the dividing line between intervention and involvement. In other words, being satisfied with a limited scope of operations with a limited number of forces and equipment, and maintaining a size of forces consistent with the Russian principle of “Reasonable sufficiency”. Therefore, controlling the size of the military operation to be far away from involvement in terms of bringing more forces and equipment and expanding the scope of military operations.
Here comes a set of critical questions that affect the size and limits of Russian intervention, for example: To what extent is it possible to control Putin’s dream of Caesar glory? To what extent can Russian expansion be controlled on the ground and the line separating between intervention and involvement maintained?
It was expected from the start that the possibility of involvement is much more likely and not only interfering, putting into consideration that rolling towards a large Russian involvement will have consequences at the international level despite the Kremlin’s attempt to control the intervention as it claims. However, restraint may not help when Putin’s eye falls on Constantinople.
The worst case scenario is that Putin insists on continuing to get involved by moving to deeper military maneuvers towards Turkey, and here it will develop events and rollover to another stage that will be the real beginning of a third world war.
Analyzing the Russian geostrategic jumps, one finds that it made the first jump outside its borders, which was the occupation of eastern Ukraine and annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014. In this regard, Iskander Bariev says that Russia “moved 32.5 thousand soldiers to Crimea, and restored the military sites left by the Soviet Union And the S-400 missiles were transported; in addition to 88 artillery systems, 372 armored vehicles, 113 combat aircraft, 62 helicopters, six ships, and six submarines. He implied that Russia was building bridges and airports in Crimea, not only for civilian purposes but also for strategic military ones, also he did not exclude that Russia had transferred some nuclear weapons to the Crimean territory.
Then Russia made the second leap towards Syria in September 2015 and fortified itself with the S-400, and allied with Iran and its militias, and the Syrian regime’s army.
Russia knows that after 2023, there will be a new situation for the Bosporus strait, which will be out of the international framework to the Turkish domain, at this point Turkey will control Russia’s noose. Will Putin be patient until that moment that will make Russia’s only waterway to the world in Turkey’s hand?
It seems that Russia has tried to persuade Iran to agree to dig a canal from the Caspian Sea towards the warm waters of the Persian Gulf, with Russia paying the estimated cost of seven billion dollars. But Iran has refused that, as this channel will split Iran longitudinally in half, which severely affects its regional security.
Moreover, when the ISIS argument fell, Putin found himself in front of an opportunity to move to achieve the optimal picture mentioned above and to prepare for the third jump, which may be this time towards Constantinople.
The events in Syria and the complexity of the geostrategic situation where Turkish and Russian strategic interests are heading towards a collision.
On the one hand, the complicated situation is pushing Turkey (which has been delayed due to its internal situation in previous years) pushing it towards securing its national security and defending it on Syrian soil, otherwise, it will defend it on Turkish soil. On the other hand, Putin is working to secure Syria for his benefit and works to stabilize the regime by striking every opponent of the regime. Also, applying the burned land tactic to destroy cities and villages, and abandon its people to get rid of the opposition. Then, he will hold upcoming presidential elections that prevent every naturalized Syrian abroad from voting and thus secure the victory of Bashar al-Assad. Later on, Russia devotes itself to looking towards Constantinople to free the Bosporus corridor from Turkey’s hand and restore the glory of the Orthodox.
This means Russia welcomes more Turkish involvement in Syria as well as a clash with the Kurds in order to withdraw more Turkish military forces towards the south, making it easier for Russia to prepare for the third jump to the Bosporus.
Accordingly, there are two clashing strategies moving towards confrontation in Syria. And there is nothing to prevent the collision except for the common sense that Putin lacks due to his ambition for this jump. However, this jump may be delayed due to reasons beyond the control of the Russians. Perhaps what is happening these days related to the outbreaks of the global pandemic of Corona, and the result of breaking bones between the Saudi-Russian about the price of oil pushing it to nearly 30 dollars per barrel. Besides, the falling of ruble against the dollar to about 74 rubles, and President Putin’s attempt to establish himself for another term of office by extending his right to the presidency for other years, all of which will delay this jump for a while.
The massive exercise “Defender – Europe 20” to be held this month (March 2020), which is the third-largest exercise for NATO since World War II will simulate the movement of American forces from America to European ports and from there to the battlefield (in Germany, Poland, all the way to the Baltic countries). Whereas 18 European countries will participate (Defense news 7 October 2019). Therefore, this exercise can be read in the context of the global trend towards an expected world war. In this exercise, America will participate with about 20,000 soldiers where the first of these forces arrived on February 20 this year. The USNS Benavidez cargo ship, the American flag MV Resolve and MV Patriot, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Europe last month, accompanied by The USS Vella Gulf guided-missile cruiser is via a path created by strike group Eisenhower (the business insider 4 March 2020). The cost of this exercise is expected to be $ 340 million, but this exercise will be reduced further due to the Corona pandemic, as it will be redesigned to suit the current global health conditions (Stars and Stripes 11 March 2020).
Expected West Position
The United States of America and the West view both Turkey and Russia from the hostility and competition perception. At the same time, neither America nor the West welcomes the Russian third jump, as it will give Putin more challenge and insurrection. Therefore, two expected scenarios for the West and the United States to move in:
The first scenario: The United States and the West wishing the collision between Turkey and Russia, and will support and encourage Turkey to hit and hinder the Russian bear and defeat him in Syria, get rid of its adventures in Ukraine and Crimea, and cut the way to the third jump. In other words, get rid of it by Turkish hands and Turkish costs. The result is that Russia is defeated and pushed towards its natural geographical borders, while at the same time weakening Turkey.
The second scenario: The United States and the West will partially support Turkey, and the conflict between the Turks and Russians to be left unresolved to overburden and weaken the two parties. Thus, cornering Russia towards weakness and curbed its strategic ambitions, while weakening and exhausting Turkey in this war.
 Picardo, Elvis. “How US & European Union Sanctions Impact Russia.”Investopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. <http://www.investopedia.com>. Path: http://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/011515/how-us-european-union-sanctions-impact-russia.asp#ixzz3oEqGzBmL .
 https://www.xe.com/ar/currencyconverter/convert/?Amount=66&From=RUB&To=USD (3) “Depletion of Foreign Exchange Reserves to Continue until Parliamentary Elections.” N.p., 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. Path: http://www.contact.az/docs/2015/Economics&Finance/082000126913en.htm#.Vhsfmfmqqko.
 The Full Transcript of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Speech at the United Nations General Assembly.” Newsweek. Ed. Polly Mosendz. N.p., 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2015. <http://www.newsweek.com/transcript-putin-speech-united-nations-377586>.