Jun 30, 2015 Putin’s Plans For New Quartet To Defeat Islamic State PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Abdel Bari Atwan   
Tuesday, 30 June 2015 15:43

Syrian foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem paid a surprise visit to Moscow on Monday and was greeted, upon arrival, by both President Putin and Russian  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. What was the purpose of this visit?

We believe it has to do with the continued expansion of Islamic State (IS) which has made new gains against Assad’s Army in north west, central and southern Syria.

President Putin seems to be one of few foreign leaders to truly appreciate the danger presented to regional, and international, security by IS.

Putin re-iterated his support for the Assad regime, ‘politically, economically and militarily’, but firmly linked it with the fight against IS, warning that all regional actors need to ‘pool their efforts’ in fighting ‘this evil’.

Russia has always been seen as the key to a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis, which has claimed over 220,000 lives, but has stood firm on its insistence that Assad’s resignation is not a necessary pre-condition to a negotiated settlement.

Russia is now refocusing the main emphasis away from the survival of the Assad regime and onto IS as the most pressing danger; Putin called on major regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to put aside their campaign against President Assad and join forces with the regime against IS. The suggestion is that a new coalition to combat the extremists should be formed pitting Riyadh and Damascus, probably along with Ankara and Amman, against IS.

The Russian news agency reported that early discussions on the matter had been fruitful which suggests that preliminary talks had been held with the main players (Riyadh, Ankara and Amman).  It seems likely that Mouallem was summoned to Moscow after, rather than before,  formal requests to embark on negotiations with the Assad regime in a bid to collaborate against IS had been received.

Riyadh, Ankara and Amman appear to be reluctantly coming round to Putin’s view that IS cannot be effectively that countered without  the participation of the Syrian regime.

Last Wednesday, Evgeny Lukyanov the Secretary of the Russian Security Council said at a news conference that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries ‘should pray for Bashar al-Assad… If Assad’s regime collapses, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries will be the next targets for the Islamic State’. He warned that there are at least 5000 Saudi nationals among the ranks of IS who ‘only know how to murder’ and who would one day come home.  How prescient those words proved to be two days later when a Saudi national blew himself up in a Shiite mosque in Kuwait, killing at least 27 people. The attack was claimed by IS.

The bombing in Kuwait, the massacre of 38 tourists in Sousse, Tunisia, and the attack on a gas installation in Lyon, which occurred on the same day and were all claimed by extremists, underscore the accuracy of Russia’s interpretation of the current situation. Nothing happens by chance in Moscow and Lukyanov’s gift of prophecy may have its origins in Russia’s extensive security and intelligence network.

These attacks sent horrifying messages to the region’s governments – the Shiite mosque attacks (which were preceded by similar attacks in Saudi Arabia last month) demonstrated the weaknesses of the GCC countries and there are indications that Bahrain may be next. The attack on tourists will have shaken Turkey where tourism is a mainstay of its economic success, generating $30 billion annually.

In this context, Moscow’s plan for a coalition of regional actors – including the Assad regime – to confront IS will undoubtedly appear more attractive to Riyadh and Ankara. Indeed, sources close to the Saudi ruling family have suggested to us that Riyadh made approaches to Moscow in a bid to open channels of communication with Damascus in preparation for a change of policy vis a vis Assad.

Policies are not based on principles, but self interest; for this reason we can witness the spectacle of today’s allies fighting side by side in the same trench with yesterday’s adversaries. A new regional tsunami – IS – is sweeping all the region’s previous paradigms away and no military initiative to date, including continuous air strikes by both a Saudi-led coalition and the US, has made much headway against the extremists.

If Moscow succeeds in patching together an effective ‘quartet’, will we see Turkish, Saudi and Jordanian troops fighting alongside the Syrian army, which remains an effective force? And what then for the Syrian armed opposition factions they have been funding, arming and training for the past four years?

The whole region has become an endless battle ground in this ‘game of nations’ which has destroyed half of Syria and displaced four million of her citizens. May God have mercy

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