September 8, 2013

Putin: lonesome, scared and confused

By Irina Severin


Talk to real master, not shadow




Before the G-20 Summit Putin assured the world in the official interview, where he has not ruled out backing a U.S.-led military operation in Syria if the Kremlin gets concrete proof than an alleged chemical attack on civilians was committed by Bashar Assad’s regime.

 I would not doubt the sincerity of Putin’s intention. He bases all his prestige on the Soviet Victory in the WWII over the atrocious regime of Hitler, but now he finds himself and Russia on the side of the “Syrian Hitler,” using gas against his own people. Putin understands that despite his massive propaganda efforts, he will not be able to manipulate the public opinion for long. It seems he suddenly realized that he risks remaining on the wrong side of history.

For the West, the Kremlins condition is quite easy to satisfy, as there are enough proofs that only the Assad forces could conduct the chemical attack. However, the next day – a day before the Summit - Putin unexpectedly produced a U-turn, publicly named John Kerry a “liar” using a blatant manipulationPutin’s sudden change of mind is the main intrigue of the G-20 Summit and deserves attention.

Failed Mega Deal

What happened in between? A day before, the Summit Putin had a pompous meeting with the Chinese leader expecting to sign a mega-deal for gas supply to China. Then top Chinese official stated that any military actions in the Middle East would lead to the oil prices growth, what makes China reject the strike. As about advertised “mega-deal,” expected by Russia, it failed as Chinese continue insisting on a half-price of the price Russia is getting in Europe.
Moreover, a couple days before the Summit China has signed another mega-deal with gas-rich Turkmenistan, more than doubling gas exports to China. Next day after the Summit China struck $30 billion deal with Kazakhstan including the purchase of the $5 billion stake in the giant Kashagan oilfield.  

Therefore, China is not in a hurry and can quietly wait, when Russia become totally isolated by the West and be ready for a slow technical takeover of Russia. China is not interested investing in Russia, except big industrial project at the Far East with a precondition that the working force on this enterprises will be exclusively from China. As despite the high oil and gas prices, the Russian economy is sinking a bit earlier or later Putin will have to accept the Chinese proposition. This would mean a “forever concession” by China of the Russia’s the Far East.

Russia’s Political Bluffing

Russia's dependence on China is growing what makes Putin nervous. Moreover, China increases its influence in the region, considered by Moscow its “legitimate sphere of interests” and gradually ousts Russia. However, Russia does not dare to complain.  Instead, it pretends to have a very special relation and a strong alliance with China as opposing to the failing relationship with the West. 

China routinely calls Russia a “major country” and lets Moscow fight its revisionist fights with the West. At the same time, China does not consider Russia, an equal partner.  On a Chinese official web page,  there are pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping with American President Barack Obama, but there are no pictures with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This shows where the real China’s priorities are.  

At the same time, Putin’s dependence on China explains Putin’s U-turn.  Trying hard to please Chinese President, Putin reversed his recent declaration on possible joining the international effort against Bashar Assad and did this by calling John Kerry a “liar.”

Upgrading Role for China

Putin’s unfortunate position, which he masks by massive propaganda efforts, promoting his image and ideology in the West, makes him useless as a negotiator on Syria.  The real master of the situation is China.

From this perspective the Chinese and the Western positions on Syria entirely coincide but contradict to Russia's interests: maintaining the civil war in Syria is a precondition for high oil price, on which the entire Russian economy totally depends. 

China should realize that as soon as the situation in Syria is resolved the oil prices would inevitably go down. This could become a first international action, where China can demonstrate its political maturity and responsibility for stability in the World. 

Beijing could like this new role. China already follows the U.S. and the EU example, offering assistance to different countries. Cash-rich China can show real leadership by helping Syria after the conflict is over.

If the leader of China does think that the growth of oil prices is the only objection to the common action in Syria, the negotiations should be conducted with him, not with the politically impotent Putin. 

From this perspective, the Chinese and the Western positions on Syria objectively coincide but contradict to Russia's interests: maintaining the civil war in Syria is a precondition for high oil prices, on which the entire Russian economy critically depends. 

China should realize that as soon as the situation in Syria is resolved the oil prices would inevitably go down. This could become a first international action, where China can demonstrate its political maturity and responsibility for stability in the World. Beijing could like this new role. China already follows the U.S. and the EU example, offering assistance to different countries. Cash-rich China can show real leadership by helping Syria after the conflict is over.

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