It's the ultimate geopolitical cliffhanger of the season: will US President Barack Obama finally decide to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, either this Friday or during the UN General Assembly next week in New York?
Russia's game changer in Syria -- not only weapons delivery but also the prospect of actual intervention by the Russian Air Force -- has left the Beltway reeling.
Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walled Muallem has made it clear to RT that direct Russian involvement in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh and those "moderates" (US neocon designation) of Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. Al-Qaeda in Syria, is even more important than the arms delivery.
Washington, meanwhile, remains mired in a geopolitical black hole as far as Putin's strategy is concerned. The Obama administration's response will hinge on how Putin's speech at the UN will be received across the world, and how the frantic diplomacy related to the Syrian theatre of war will fare.
It's naive to interpret the Russian military build-up as a mere show of force, an invitation to the Americans to finally sit down and discuss everything from southwest Asia to Ukraine.
It's also naive to interpret the move as Moscow's desperation for some kind of dialogue, any dialogue. There are no illusions at the Kremlin. Obama and Putin exchanged a few words in Beijing late last year -- and that's it; no official visits, no detailed meetings.
What's certain is that Putin's latest chess move carries the potential to smash to pieces the Obama administration's post-Maidan "strategy" of isolating Russia. Thus the predictable fear, loathing and paranoia permeating the Beltway.
Old Cold War 2.0 habits die hard -- if at all. Washington may extend the proverbial "financial support" to failed state, bankrupt Ukraine, and the pressure over the EU to keep sanctions throughout 2016 will remain. US "Think Tankland" keeps frantically spinning that the Obama administration is "not ready" to deal with Russia.
Well, at least the White House and the State Department seem to have finally understood that those Sukhois and surface-to-air missiles now in Syria are there to protect the Latakia air base. It was up to the Pentagon to elucidate a clueless John Kerry; these are for "force protection."
The new batch includes 4 Su-30SM multirole combat jets; 12 Su-25 ground attack jets; 12 Su-24M attack fighters; and six possible Ka-52 attack helicopters. According to IHS Jane's, these provide "a significant capability to target rebels opposed to the Syrian government and to secure the Latakia homeland of President Bashar al-Assad."
The elucidation came after Pentagon supremo Ash Carter and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a 50-minute phone talk. The fact that this was their first phoner in more than a year tells everything one needs to know about the Obama administration's "diplomatic" skills.
Inevitably, Kerry had to change his tune; the weapons do not raise "serious questions" anymore. Now Kerry is essentially saying Moscow has the right to turbo-charge its peace-for-Syria drive, and the White House is not fussy about Assad's departure date anymore, as long as there is a "transition."
Watch the chessboard
Putin is bound to deliver a showstopper at the UN. Spare a thought for the Obama administration's foreign policy "muppets," including the neocon cell at the State Department. Putin, under the glare of global public opinion, will frame the absolute defeat of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh as the key geopolitical issue of these times; he will commit Russia to it; and he will propose for the "West" to join in.
Scenario 1: Washington and its EU minions decide to support the Russian drive, or at least have the US-led coalition of dodgy opportunists work side-by-side with Russia -- and Iran. This means helping Damascus to win a real war against ("Caliphate") terror. "Assad must go" may even go afterwards. But he'll go as a winner. The Obama administration -- as well as Sultan Erdogan, Qatar, the House of Saud -- will be held responsible all across the world for prolonging a tragedy that could have been resolved in 2012. And Russia will be recognized as the ultimate defender of civilization against barbarism.
Scenario 2: Washington and the EU minions refuse to act side-by-side with Russia, and continue relying on the appalling performance of the coalition of the dodgy opportunists -- for instance, as in Erdogan bombing Kurds and not ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, and the French staging puny airstrikes invoking "self-defense" (I'm not making this up; it's the official Elysee Palace version.) The whole world will interpret it for what it is; the NATO-GCC combo is not really interested in smashing the Salafi-jihadis. Imagine the cataclysmic diplomatic/geopolitical fallout of five years of NATO-GCC enabling hardcore jihadis.
And there's of course the coda; if the Syrian Arab Army/Russian military push against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh works, guess who'll take the credit.
So Putin wins on both scenarios. Forget about the relentless demonization, the new Hitler-Stalin memes. "Putin The Great" will be no less than a Slavic Perseus -- the slayer of the jihadi Medusa.
The great power is back
But there's more, much more. Whatever the scenario -- 1 or 2 -- Putin is simultaneously masterminding a Ukraine endgame, which involves the end of sanctions, probably by 2017. The nations that really count in the EU want to scrap them. And scrap them they will if Putin does what they can't possibly do; smash the "Caliphate" that is sending wave after wave of refugees towards Fortress Europe.
Here I examined how any possible peace in Syria will be Putin's fault. Now imagine the consequences. Russia back as the real indispensable nation -- in the Middle East and beyond. And Russia back as a great power -- period.
Some signs of intelligent life in the EU can see it coming. Enter Helene Carrere d'Encausse, Russia-expert historian and member of the venerable Academie Francaise since 1990, of which she's the perpetual secretary. Madame d'Encausse clearly understands how Putin sees himself as the heir of Peter The Great; a great modernizer.
And even as he recognizes Europe is not the center of the world anymore, Putin is not an adversary of Europe. Nevertheless, he firmly believes that for the Americans and Europeans, Russia is a country that can be treated with disdain. That must be imperatively reversed.
"Putin The Great's" project is to make Russia regain its status of a great power. When he was elected to the presidency in 2000 -- I remember it well, I was in Moscow covering it -- Russia was in total chaos, perpetrated by unbridled neoliberalism. Putin got Russia back on track.
What he wants most of all -- contrary to superficial drivel reigning in US "Think Tankland" -- is not to remake the Russian or Soviet empire; but to get rid for good the humiliation of the 1990s -- the decade of plundering -- and make the nation proud again. Just check his popularity level; 85 percent of Russians -- and counting -- agree.
#Putin to #Netanyahu: Syrian army too busy saving country to threaten Israel http://on.rt.com/6rwm
Madame d'Encausse refers back historically to Count Sergey Uvarov, the imperial statesman behind Tsar Nicholas I, who defined the doxa in Russia in the mid 19th century as "orthodoxy, autocracy and national genius." She emphasizes this is the heart of Putin's ideology.
National genius, in this context, refers to a sense of social justice and a very Russian spirit of solidarity. Putin always emphasizes this spirit, which is an essential component of what it means to be Russian. And it is all tied up with nationalism. We just need to re-read Dostoevsky, for whom "the Russian nation is an extraordinary phenomenon in the history of human genius."
And then, of course, there's Islam -- an immensely complicating factor.
There are over 20 million Muslims in Russia. Putin recognizes that Russia is also a Muslim state; it's in fact multi-confessional, and most Russian Muslims are Sunnis. Putin clearly identifies ISIS/ISIL/Daesh as a Sunni crusade against Shi'ites. At the same time he maintains very good relations with Shi'ite Iran and the Allawites in Syria. And he realizes that Sunni republics, former Russian and Soviet possessions, are at the gates of Russia.