New US-Russia schism will hurt Middle East
Amid the worst diplomatic rift since the 1970s and 1980s, Russia has urged the US to show “real political will” to repair ties. Seven months after Washington expelled 35 Russian diplomats under the pretext that US diplomats were being oppressed in Moscow, Russia has expelled 755 American diplomats in response to new sanctions imposed by Washington. This marks the start of a political and diplomatic war between the superpowers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday: “We had hoped for quite a long time that the situation will somehow change, but apparently if it changes, it won’t be soon.” His spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it “will take time for the US to recover from political schizophrenia,” adding: “Moscow wants constructive cooperation with Washington.”
Peskov was signaling to the US that a new diplomatic and political war will lead to further polarization of countries into Eastern and Western alliances. New US sanctions against Russia for its aggression against its neighbors and its unproven interference in last year’s American presidential election represent a witch-hunt. The sanctions were imposed despite opposition in the White House.
The Trump administration’s weakness has led to such decisions being taken by Congress. This will hurt America’s political reputation internationally. With the Senate overwhelmingly approving a bill to toughen sanctions on Russia, Putin said Moscow still “has things to say and is able to further restrict areas of common activities, which may be sensitive for the American side.” This shows confidence in Russia’s ability to retaliate against pressure.
The first reason for this diplomatic war is not alleged Russian meddling in the American election, but Moscow winning the battle in Syria against the US-led alliance, as well as in the wider Middle East and further afield. So the US started finding pretexts to take measures against Russia, its officials, diplomats and businessmen.
It is now clear that the atmosphere between Putin and Trump at the G-20 meetings in Hamburg was far from cordial, as they sparred over Syria’s use of lethal weapons against its own citizens, Russia’s support for Assad and its alleged interference in the US election.
The second reason is that despite Western sanctions, Russia’s economy is strong and vibrant as it has natural resources that other countries badly need, such as oil and gas. So any talk of great damage done by sanctions is cynical and baseless.
The third reason is Russia’s growing global influence, especially in the Middle East, which hurts US interests. Moscow has very strong relations with Iran, Syria, Qatar and Iraq, which are pivotal to Middle East stability. As such, Russia’s measures are in self-defense as it believes the US is planning regime change, similar to what happened in Georgia and Ukraine, under slogans of freedom and democracy.
The alliance of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, especially after recent ballistic missile tests by Tehran and Pyongyang, has driven the US to behave offensively against Russia again, dashing hopes for normalized ties under President Donald Trump. This will create a new battlefield in the Middle East, Africa or Asia for both countries to flex their muscles and extend their control.
It is now clear that the atmosphere between Putin and Trump at the G-20 meetings in Hamburg was far from cordial, as they sparred over Syria’s use of lethal weapons against its own citizens, Russia’s support for Bashar Assad and its alleged interference in the US election. This signals a sharp deterioration in bilateral ties since Trump became president.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). She can be reached on Twitter: @politblogme