India Russia and the Syrian crisis

By M K Bhadrakumar, Opinion Maker

There are grave security implications for both Russia and India. What happens in Syria holds the potential to impact a wide swathe of the so-called Greater Middle East, stretching from the Levant to the Central Asian steppes – a region that forms the ‘extended neighborhood’ of both Russia and India’s.

Drawing by Alexey Lorsh

If the Russian vote against the resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly over Syria last week was predictable, India’s abstention was fortuitous.

This Russian-Indian ‘divergence’ arose because the two countries so far pursued specific interests. For Russia, Syria has been a strategic ally, whereas India took a pragmatic stance imbued with the alchemy of its equations vis-à-vis the protagonists spearheading ‘regime change’ in Syria – the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

However, that has become a priori history. The die has been cast and it emerges that Russia and India have a strong commonality of interests. That is how the voting pattern at the UN last Thursday needs to be interpreted. The heart of the matter is that certain bigger issues of immense consequence to the international system and the regional and global politics have surged to the centre-stage and India and Russia have shared concerns over their interplay.

Drawing by Dan Pototsky

Syria’s curse could as well be India’s

Principally, there are five key issues involved here.

One, the concerted external intervention to force ‘regime change’ in Syria drives a dagger into the heart of the Westphalian system that historically put primacy on the sovereign nation-state, big or small, as the basic unit of international order. The violation of the established order requires careful explanation, and yet no such explanation is forthcoming. This violation runs contrary to international law and negates the very idea of a democratic world order that Russia and India are working for.

Second, where do we draw the line, assuming the Arab Spring is about the advent of democracy, reform and change in countries with authoritarian rule? More pertinently, who draws the line? The two diehard proponents of democracy and reform in Syria happen to be the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are archaic oligarchies themselves. In sum, what is happening over the Syrian situation is selective intervention for geopolitical reasons, which is camouflaged as ‘humanitarian intervention’.  The irony deepens when we factor in that the humanitarian situation itself has largely been precipitated through instigation of violence from outside to destabilize the Syrian state structures, economy and society systematically with impunity through the past several months, violating the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter.

Third, neither the interventionists nor the Syrian ‘rebels’ whom they armed and let loose have told us how they propose to tackle – leave alone whether they have the leverage to shape – what follows in the downstream of ‘regime change’ in Syria. Instead, what comes to mind is the catastrophic current history of Iraq following the much-trumpeted US intervention for ‘regime change’ in that country in 2003 – an epochal tragedy of death and devastation that burdens generations of Iraqis.

Four, any anarchy in Syria is bound to spill over. The Persian Gulf region (where over 6 million Indians live and work) won’t remain unaffected. The interventionist powers have let it be known that their next target is Iran. The flame is stealthily advancing right up to India’s immediate neighborhood. There is a highly combustible mix already available in many countries of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. In fact, apart from the GCC states, the Caspian and Central Asian states too become vulnerable to the upheaval.

Indeed, both Russia and India become vulnerable in the process. The spectre that is haunting the two countries is the ascendancy of political Islam and the threat it poses to regional security and stability.Afghanistan is the disastrous outcome of the West’s attempt to harness the forces of religious extremism as instruments of policy against the former Soviet Union. The West is once again conniving with Islamist extremist fighters in Syria.

There are grave security implications for both Russia and India. What happens in Syria holds the potential to impact a wide swathe of the so-called Greater Middle East, stretching from the Levant to the Central Asian steppes – a region that forms the ‘extended neighborhood’ of both Russia and India’s.

Finally, there is an existential issue that no one wants to talk about because of its extreme sensitivity – viz., the fragmentation of plural societies. The US pursued a deliberate policy to create the political entity of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, which is today admirably serving its interests as a cockpit to strategize the regime change in Syria. We sense an impending fragmentation of Syria into an Alawite state and Sunni state and, possibly, yet another Kurdish enclave.

The point is, the territorial boundaries of countries that are of pivotal interest to Western regional strategies are unraveling due to external ‘humanitarian intervention’.

This smacks of colonial strategy.

The process began in the 1990s with the former Yugoslavia. Iraq’s fragmentation is today far advanced. Afghanistan hangs by a thread. As plural societies, Russia and India cannot but be concerned.

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