‘Russia is the kingmaker in the Middle East,’ French professor Gilles Kepel says


Russia is the “kingmaker” in the Middle East because of the failure of Western policies, according to Gilles Kepel, a French political scientist who is currently at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.

Kepel, whose new book “Beyond Chaos: The Crisis in the Mediterranean and the Middle East” is coming out in two weeks in France, visited Istanbul in order to speak at a conference organized by the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) and Boğaziçi University.

Speaking to daily Hürriyet on the sidelines of the conference, he said everyone thinks Russia and Iran are partners in the Middle East. However, Russia has four partners in the region.

“It also has very close links with Israel, with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey. So Putin is acting together with these four allies, but these four allies have conflicting views for the future of Syria,” Kepel said.

Sense of an ending for Syria’s war on Idlib front line


The fall of the Assads was predicted, assumed, in the West for many years, but they have survived and thanks to the help of the Russians and the Iranians they are getting stronger.

Some in the West argue that the time has come to do business with them, to recognise reality and, however reluctantly, get on with the future.

For President Assad international rehabilitation really would be victory.

Does the Russia-Turkey deal on Idlib signal a new era of relations in the Middle East?


Russia and Turkey have played major roles in the Syrian civil war, jockeying for regional dominance in today’s “new Arab wars.” Russia supports the Syrian government, while Turkey backs some rebels and opposes Kurdish militants operating in Syria.

Russia has been working to expand its influence in the Middle East. And as I discuss in my book, Turkey has increasingly asserted its regional power as its traditional secularist forces fade under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Both states seem to view themselves as great powers with special roles to play in Middle East politics.

And the Idlib deal not only resolves conflict in Syria, but it also establishes guidelines for the numerous states involved. Russia, Turkey and Iran have gotten together and decided on the rules for regional states to follow.

Great-power management may thus extend beyond Turkish and Russian cooperation as an increasingly accepted means of resolving regional crises. Instead of advancing the interests of sectarian or ideological allies, powerful states in the region may cooperate across these divisions to stabilize the region to suit their purposes.

If states view crises as opportunities for great-power management, compromise may be more likely, as in Idlib.



Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Vershinin stressed that the transfer of the missile system is meant to bring stability to the region, rather than provocative action. “Syria has the right to defend itself,” he said.

Vershinin said that Israel and Iran will have to negotiate one day, even if this is not possible soon.

“The question is how do you see yourself as a country in the region?” the senior Russian diplomat added. ”In the end you have to be able to negotiate, you have to learn to conduct a dialogue. You can’t ignore it.”


Modi defies Trump to edge closer to Putin


By doubling down on Moscow at a time when Putin has been demonized by the West, Modi has unambiguously conveyed that he places India’s self-interests above all other considerations and is willing to take risks to strengthen India’s rise. His nationalistic “India First” foreign policy could not have found a better illustration.

The S-400 has been praised by the Chief of India’s Air Force as a “booster dose” to national security capabilities. It is top-ranked in range and precision, and rated by defense industry insiders as technically far superior to the American Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system or the Israeli Arrow antimissile shield.

India, which had until now relied on outdated anti-aircraft and missile strike capacities, feels that the induction of the S-400 will bolster its deterrence in possible future wars with Pakistan or China, its strategic rivals in South Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Militarily the S-400 is a no-brainer for India. But this big defense transaction got entangled in the crossfire between Russia and the U.S., which has threatened to impose economic sanctions on any country that fills Russia’s arms sales coffers.

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), passed in 2017 amid worsening U.S.-Russia ties over election meddling and geopolitical tensions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, has turned into a thorn in the flesh for buyers of Russian arms, including India.

Modi is defying the U.S. for both commercial and geostrategic reasons. Firstly, India is the world’s largest importer of weapons, accounting for 12% of total global arms purchases. While depending on outside suppliers is not an enviable position, it gives India a bargaining advantage in what is considered to be a “buyer’s market.”

India offers immense moneymaking opportunity to manufacturers, Russian or American. U.S. companies, which used to account for only 2% of India’s weapons imports until 2012, have sold their way to 15% today. Israel (11%) and France (4.65) have also recorded serious gains.

Putin Faces Hard Choices in Syria


A first glance, Syria may seem to have entered a new status quo forged by seven years of war that may have sapped the energy of most belligerents. The country is divided in five zones of influence under the control of various foreign powers. The flow of refugees has dwindled to a trickle while the various armed groups that fought Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as well as each other, are either confined to narrow bands of territory or restrained by powerful foreign allies.

Putin sees a broadening of international involvement in Syria as one way to ease pressure on Russian resources. That means convening an international donors conference to devise a reconstruction plan for the war-ravaged country. However, there is a big hurdle on the way to creating such a consortium under Russian leadership.

Conscious of the fact that his apparent gains could easily translate into big losses, Putin faces hard choices in Syria in the current parenthesis of apparent calm.