President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation needed a showcase for the advanced weaponry produced within his country, and secured that in Syria. Precision strikes by his air force and effective use of Russia-built ordnance by the Syrian military have ensured that the militarised anti-Assad forces are in retreat, such that within the year, three-fourth of Syria is likely to return in the control of the government led by Bashar Al-Assad. UN “Peace Envoy” Stefan de Mistura is ceaselessly trying to ensure that Damascus and Moscow lose at the negotiating table what they have gained on the battlefield, seeking to put in place a “transitional government” in Damascus that would soon do to Assad what US-backed Afghan fighters did to President Najibullah just over two decades ago. Since the 1990s, the UN system has become an extension of the NATO alliance, with the EU monopolising “peacekeeping” slots so that interests of the world’s most well endowed military alliance be promoted under the cloak of the UN.
That organisation now functions in such a way that the General Assembly has become a cipher, and control over operations has devolved to the Security Council (UNSC), where NATO has a majority within the Permanent Five. These - the US, UK, France, China and Russia – are the only countries which count in the New York headquarters of what was intended by idealists to be a World Government. Even India, which has a billion-plus population and an economy, which in Purchasing Power Parity terms is third largest in the world, has the same status within the United Nations Organisation as Lesotho or Fiji. Unless the US brings to the table the candidature of India (together with Brazil, Japan, Germany and South Africa) as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and forces a vote on each country, the chances of UN reform appear slight. Four of these five are likely to pass the test, with only Japan likely to fail due to a veto from Beijing, which is presumably why Washington is reluctant to bring the issue of UNSC expansion to a vote in the General Assembly as well as the UNSC. It suits each of the five permanent members of the UNSC to postpone the issue of UN reform and continue jointly exercising full control over UN operations, of course with major share of decisions going in favour of the NATO majority on the council.
Each of the five is a nuclear weapons state, with Russia and the US being far ahead of the other three, although China is catching up in both numbers as well as in sophistication of technology. Policymakers across both sides of the Atlantic still behave, as though this is the 19th century, and hence go beyond prudent levels in their geopolitical challenges to rivals. An example is the way NATO has provoked Russia, buy first seeking to gobble up its periphery and convert them into bases against Moscow, and then imposing economic sanctions on Russia when that country retaliates against such a policy of containment. The US and the EU have made an error in persisting with sanctions on Russia, and not merely because the perilous state of the global economy makes such moves even more self-defeating than usual. These sanctions have resulted in a steady increase in the linkage between Beijing and Moscow, just as the isolation of Iran and Myanmar led to both coming close to China, a country too big to sanction, now that its economy is nearing the size of that of the US. Historically, relations between Turkey and Russia were adversarial during the period of Ottoman rule in the former and Tsarist control in the latter. Today, President Erdogan is visibly seeking to bring back lost glory of the Ottoman period, making moves designed to carve out an Ankara-controlled sphere of influence well beyond present borders of his state, while President Putin is as powerful in Russia as most Tsars were.
However, the present tension between Moscow and Ankara are because of Turkey, who is eager to establish control over Syria and recognises Russia as the primary obstacle to success in this endeavour. Shooting down a Russian air force jet that overflew Turkish airspace for only a few seconds was made possible because of the umbrella provided by NATO, which stands by Erdogan despite his policy of arming and facilitating elements that are indistinguishable from Daesh. However, should Russia retaliate to a fresh Turkish move by shooting down an aircraft of that country, it is very unlikely that anything other than strong language will come out of Brussels. Europe would be thrown into chaos, if there is armed conflict between NATO and Russia, given the fact that the armies of the alliance have proved themselves to be incompetent in the field of battle, being defeated even by such a raggedy bunch as the Taliban.
The Afghan and Iraqi armies - which have deliberately been kept under-equipped by NATO - are showing themselves much more proficient in battle than the soldiers in NATO armies, whose sole purpose seems to be to preserve their own lives, no matter what “collateral” damage get inflicted in the process. Against Russian troops, NATO conventional forces are likely to face a rout, while a nuclear exchange would lead to incalculable damage to both sides. President Erdogan clearly did not factor in such a reality when he embarked on a policy of seeking to humiliate Russia into withdrawing from Syria Vladimir Putin’s response was to hit back by bombarding those forces in Syria who report to their Turkish commanders and Saudi and Qatari funders. So effective had the counter-attack been that it is clear that those who believed that Russian military equipment was no longer equal or superior to that of the US were wrong.
Looking at their respective performance in Syria, it is clear that the SU-35 is far superior to France’s Rafeal although for diplomatic reasons. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is believed to have cleared the purchase by the Indian Air Force of the latter. The consequences of Syria go far behind relations with Turkey, which is why it was adventurous of President R T Erdogan to challenge Vladimir Putin. That challenge is being replied to in battlefields of Syria, and it is not to Turkey’s advantage. Ankara’s only hope is that Stefan de Mistura in his UN camouflage persuades Moscow to surrender its gains at conference table and agree to extremists entering the government in Damascus as Trojan horses.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.