The Syrian gambit

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Baku, 24 June 2013 –

Finally, the West decided to start selling arms to the Syrian opposition forces. This has added tension to the geopolitical processes taking place in the region. Sharp reaction came from Moscow and Tehran. Disagreements among superpowers seem to have deepened. And what consequences can this have for the region?

The knight`s move

The world superpowers struggle over Syria has become tougher. Successive steps taken in the last few days have considerably changed the situation. Interestingly, superpowers are making specific decisions almost at the same time.

What had previously been said covertly is now openly expressed. The West`s decisions with respect to the Syrian stand-off is reminiscent of the knight`s move in the game of chess. But this move is unique.

The point is that the West is acting under the pretext that the Assad regime used chemical weapons. It should be noted that the same pretext was used for attacking Iraq when Saddam Hussein was accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction. And, in a certain sense, it`s like a move with the knight in chess, when it`s unclear what direction it will attack in.

The United States and the European Union have already reached agreement to provide military aid to Syrian rebels. And the Syrian opposition`s reaction came immediately. General Selim Idriss, the military chief of the main umbrella group of Syrian rebels, said "if the U.S. gives weapons, we will overthrow Bashar Assad in six months''. The Syrian president, in turn, warned those who were going to sell arms to the rebels. Assad warned the Western countries of possible terror acts.

Iran`s reaction was sharp as expected. The Independent said that Iran decided to send a first contingent of 4,000 Revolutionary Guards to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Via Hezbollah, Iran gave Al-Assad "go on with the fighting'' message. And the Syrian government forces are now preparing for a major offensive on the city of Aleppo. The last few days saw the government forces seize several strategically important rebel-held areas. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah said "we will keep fighting until our last breath''. He was even reported to have been in Syria.

And Russia`s moves regarding the Syrian crisis are of special interest. Moscow gave the West a clear message that it would defend Bashar al-Assad. The Kremlin believes selling arms to Syrian rebels will just aggravate the situation. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, sharply condemned the West`s decision to sell weapons to the Syrian opposition forces. During his talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr. Putin vowed Moscow`s position would remain unchanged. The Russian leader accused the Western powers of betraying humanitarian values by supporting Syrian rebels with "blood on their hands'' (see: Blood on your hands: Vladimir Putin's attack on David Cameron ahead of G8 talks on Syria crisis., 17 June, 2013).

All this testifies to growing tension around the Syrian crisis. Interestingly, this happens ahead of the Geneva conference. And why did the West make "the knight`s move'' exactly prior to the peace conference? What does lay behind this? To answer these questions one should first admit that a very complex game is played here. The West had long been cautious in its approach to the processes in Syria, and was avoiding direct intervention. Instead, it made attempts to involve Turkey in the war. But Ankara was very careful and vigilant. On the one hand, Turkey expressed its solidarity with the people of Syria and provided different kinds of aid to rebels, while on the other hand, the country managed to protect itself from terror. The Turkish military has not entered Syria as many were expecting.

Another side of the issue is that Iran and armed Shia groups have recently been seriously helping Bashar al-Assad`s regime. The Western and Russian media say Tehran is seeking the creation of "Shia crescent'' in the Middle East (see: Ирина Мохова. Катар рвется в лидеры арабского мира // "Независимая газета'', June 3, 2013). Against a background of these events, Russia`s continuing arms sales to the Assad regime attracts attention. Moscow says its actions are in conformity with international law. As a result, official Damascus is receiving considerable military aid.

Naturally, the West had to react to these processes. In this context, the West`s "knight move'' can be considered an unexpected blow to Bashar al-Assad`s military potential. However, there is another important geopolitical point. All these games may be a cover for plans to involve Iran in the Middle East conflict with the aim of further liquidation of Tehran. Iran has already openly intervened in the Syrian war. This means that if the Western powers send their troops to Syria, they will inevitably clash with pro-Iranian forces. From this point of view, there are no guarantees that the next "knight`s move'' of the West will not be aimed at Iran. Maybe a strategic goal behind attempts to encourage military solution to the crisis in Syria is to lay foundations for an attack on Iran.

The rook`s move

However, the Russian factor should be seriously considered because it is only Moscow that is taking effective steps against the plans of the West. The processes show that the Kremlin has already "moved its rook'' in response to the West`s "knight`s move''. Vladimir Putin admits that they sell weapons to Syria. But it`s within the law because Moscow is cooperating with Syria`s legitimate government. Mr. Putin asks the Western powers: "And who are your supporting? The people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines? Are these the people you want to support? Is it them who you want to supply with weapons?'' This words are like "the rook`s move” in the game of chess – they are aimed directly at distant targets.

Moreover, Russia`s support of the Assad regime is not limited to arms sale as Moscow openly states that it won`t allow the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria. Mr. Putin laid out his concrete and firm position on the issue at the recent G8 Lough Erne summit. And the West`s attempts to make the Kremlin change its mind have not yet produced any successful results.

Such reaction by Russia is evidence that a very complex geopolitical situation is emerging in the Middle East. What both sides are doing is just adding fuel to the fire not only in Syria, but in the entire region. The world media says the crisis has already grown into a regional conflict. Indeed, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq are all involved in the processes to a certain degree. The situation is very delicate now. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi`s decision to cut off diplomatic relations with Syria has provoked sharp reaction from some of the regional states. Tehran and Moscow also commented on the issue.

What can the result be if the processes continue taking place in this way? What is clear, first and foremost, is that the struggle for Syria is reaching a new level. In this sense "the Syrian gambit'' can end in bloodshed rather than in peace. One can say with confidence that superpowers are really trying to avoid dialogue. This may lead to the worsening of the US-Russia relations.

But what needs much more consideration is that the possibility that the regional war in the Middle East will flare up is growing. Unfortunately, this dangerous tendency is expanding. The emergence of such a battleground in the region can seriously damage Muslim countries. Their intervention in the war will not only cause regional chaos, but also seriously impede the socio-economic and regional development (see: "Suriye'de Kabusa Doğru? Suriye'nin İçinde Bulunduğu Kritik Durum ve Olası Senaryolar". USAK Raporları, №13-01, June 1, 2013). In general, the picture is very frightening, and there seems to be no way out yet.

If the West`s military plans materialize in Syria, then Iran`s situation will dramatically worsen. Tehran`s resistance together with Russia can lead to a broader geopolitical conflict. It`s probably the Syrian issue that will expose the true core of the geopolitical plans that superpowers wish to implement in the nearest possibility. In this context another thought-provoking question is what steps will be taken with respect to Caucasus and Central Asia.

All this means that "the knight`s and the rook`s moves'', in fact, symbolize a conflict of interests of superpowers on the global geopolitical scene. Under such circumstances, the possibility of chaos is extremely high. If the USA, Europe and Russia fail to reach consensus, the world can experience another geopolitical shock. However, it should be noted that there are no prerequisites that can help these geopolitical powers find the common denominator. Disagreements are so deep that achieving dialogue seems to be impossible. But hope dies last. May be "the knight'' and "the rook'' can achieve reconciliation.

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