Last week US Foreign Secretary John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian Black Sea resort Sochi – the same place where the Olympics took place with the West boycotting – for the first talks since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis in autumn 2013. Kerry held discussions for more than four hours with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before he sat down with President Putin. Among the topics discussed were in the first place those themes which the US cannot handle without support from Russia, i.e. the Iran nuclear talks, the situation in Yemen and Libya.
But apart from those other topics for the first time since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis Secretary Kerry openly admitted that any solution in that matter would have to be a political one based on the Minsk agreement. And even moresurprisingly he for the first time cautioned his Ukrainian allies and Ukrainian President Viktor Poroshenko personally who just before the meeting had threatened to ‘retake the Donezk airport whatever the cost’ that this would be a violation of the Minsk agreement that would not be tolerated.
What does this meeting tell us? It tells that it took the US and their Western allies one and a half years to realize that Russia is a power not to be bullied and starved into submission. All the sanctions that have been launched especially in the economic sector though they did result in hardships for the population did nothing to turn them against their president. If at all the Russian people stand today more securely behind President Putin than before the crisis. Just remember the impressive parade of millions of Russians in what was called ‘Immortal regiments’ in many cities of Russia. Secondly, the sanctions did not result in an isolation of Russia but they only resulted in Western goods losing their Russian market shares and other countries producers taking advantage of the opportunity to sell in Russia. For Russia the whole crisis has brought a strengthening of the realization that it needs to look East instead of West economically as much as politically. The alliance with China has become as strong as never before which was visible during the Victory Parade on the Red Square in Moscow on May 9 when Chinese soldiers were marching together with Russian units and others from the former Soviet republics. That was a first; it had never happened before.
And thirdly, the US had to learn its lesson that as a matter of fact it is already unable to tackle international crises single-handedly but needs Russian help especially with those countries with whom Russia has long-standing friendly cooperative relations like Iran and Syria. President Obama has made an Iranian agreement a central matter of his foreign policy achievement and is meeting stiff resistance from Republican side and even from within his own party. He has to be successful in the negotiations with Iran if he doesn’t want to lose face. That is why he had to send his Foreign Secretary to soften stands in the conflict with Russia and, by the way, nobody already talks about Crimea anymore! And, last but not least, the US and its western allies have realized that before getting into sanctions with a country one should think about how to get out of them without losing face when they turn out to be counterproductive. That is happening right in front of us with the G8 meeting that has become a G7 minus Russia due to those sanctions and the bigwigs are at a loss to figure out how to get Russia back in because without Russia so many things can not be decided usefully.
The cold shoulder given by Saudia, UAE and Oman to Camp David Summit called by President Obama also reflects, which way the wind is blowing now in Gulf and Middle East and the concerns these countries have, though US is trying to assurethem meaningful support to the extent of engaging military force in case of any threat from Iran. About this the Arab countries are skeptical because the readiness of the US to put boots on the ground has recently diminished quite a bit. These are apprehensions arising due to news circulating that on the desire of India, which is contemplating to operate Iranian port of Choubahar to probably facilitate transportation of oil, gas and other items from Central Asian Republics to US for which India has built a state of the art all weather road in 2007-8 spending over a billion dollars from Dularam in Afghanistan reaching upto Iranian border town of Zaranj.
Now India has been assured that US will relax sanctions against Iran on import of certain items of Indian requirements needed to operate and equip this Iranian port as a modern deep sea port with a 900 kilometer long new railway line that will connect Choubahar upto Afghan province of Bamiyan to transport Iron ore to Indian steel mills. After 10 years of use the entire infrastructure will become Iranian state property, which appears to be a master stroke of diplomacy by India to forestall the Kashghar-Gwadar Economic Corridor before birth, and China thus fighting against being left behind in the new world order of things in the region where Iran will be again given the policing role to protect US interests.
What a double standard, US stand exposed on one hand assuring GCC partners of future defense in case of any threat from Iran or IS, while using India to protect US national interest by negotiating to develop and operate Chobahar deep sea port. On the sidelines of these development John Kerry has announced to discuss with China on his forthcoming tour issue of escalating tension about South China Sea an issue raised by Philippine and Vietnam both have started overlapping claims to the area and win support for free navigation and aviation movement in South China Sea.
China has already warned the US not to take “risky provocative actions” by over-magnifying Philippines claims, while these Islands which were reclaimed and developed by China are part of China for ages therefore are Chinese legitimate projects with peaceful motives and has been providing humanitarian help to rudderless boats during the typhoon seasons. Hence it is in the interest of regional peace that US avoids jumping in to create differences among the peaceful neighbours of South China Sea. Rather play its role in stopping forced exodus of Muslim Royhingas from Maynmar where they have lived for centuries.
The last one and a half years of a second round of cold war between Russia and the West have shown several things. First, the cold war that had started against Soviet Union after WWII the West had been able to keep up for about forty years until the communist system collapsed and the Soviet Union disintegrated. But still, Russia survived and is recovering and emerging as an important player due to US misadventures. Second, the new cold war lasted for less than two years until theWest realized that Russia is not to be intimidated and isolated and all they achieved is to make the new Eurasian alliance stronger and a policy of Détente appears to be working between US, Russia and China on vital issues so far.
After Iraq now Pakistan is the biggest eyesore for India-Israel-US nexus we have been identifying for quite some time. The lesson to be learnt from this is that world power relations have shifted irrevocably and the sooner this is acknowledged the better. That gives a lot to contemplate to Pakistani foreign policy makers as well as was declared by one of our founding fathers Liaquat Ali Khan during his first ever State visit to US. Alas! his successors have continued to compromise on our national interest to their own selfish personal interest first. God bless humanity and give wisdom to understand and courage to take bold decisions to our rulers.
—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.