The successes of Russian diplomacy in the Middle East

The political changes which have been transforming the Middle East for the last two months are not the result of the destruction of any of the protagonists, but the evolution of the Iranian, Turkish and Emirati points of view. Where the military might of the United States has failed, the subtlety of Russian diplomacy has succeeded. Refusing to comment on the crimes of one party or the other, Moscow is slowly managing pacify the region.

New balances of power and a new equilibrium are being set up discreetly in the Nile valley, in the Levant and the Arab peninsula. On the contrary, however, the situation is blocked in the Persian Gulf. This considerable and coordinated change is affecting different conflicts which in appearance have no connection with one another. It is the fruit of patient and discreet Russian diplomacy [1] and, in some cases, the relative good will of the USA.

Unlike the United States, Russia is not seeking to impose its own vision on the world. It begins on the contrary with the culture of its interlocutors, which it modifies by small touches at its contact.

The withdrawal of the jihadists and Kurdish mercenaries in Syria

Everything began on 3 July – one of the five founders of the PKK, Cemil Bayik, published an op ed in the Washington Post calling for Turkey to open negotiations by lifting the solitary confinement of their most famous prisoner – Abdullah Öcalan [2]. Suddenly, prison visits for the leader of the Kurdish autonomists in Turkey, forbidden for four years, were once again authorised. This opening was a secret for no-one. The rumour had been disseminated by the Peoples’ Republican Party, who considered it treason. While waiting for clarification, his electors abstained during the municipal election in Istanbul on 23 June, inflicting a severe electoral defeat on President Erdoğan’ candidate.

Simultaneously, combats flared again in the zone occupied by Al-Qaïda in the North of Syria, the governorate of Idlib. This Islamic Emirate has no central administration, but a multitude of cantons assigned to various combatant groups. The population is supplied by European « NGO’s » affiliated with the secret services of their countries, and the presence of the Turkish army prevents the jihadists from attempting to conquer the rest of Syria. Since this situation can not be openly admitted, the NATO Press presents the Islamic Emirate of Idlib as a peaceful refuge for « moderate opponents of Assad’s dictatorship ». Suddenly, Damascus, backed up by Russian air support, began to reconquer their territory as the Turkish army withdrew in silence. The combats were extremely violent, first of all for the Republic. However, after several weeks, the advance was clear, so that if nothing occurs to prevent it, the province could be liberated in October.

On 15 July, the third anniversary of the attempted assassination of which he was the object and the improvised coup d’état which followed, President Erdoğan announced the redefinition of Turkish identity, no longer on a religious, but a national basis [3]. He also revealed that his army was going to sweep the forces of the PKK out of Syria and transfer some of the Syrian refugees to a frontier zone approximately 30 to 40 kilometres deep. This zone more or less corresponds to that in which, in 1999, President Hafez el-Assad had authorised Turkish forces to suppress any Kurdish use of artillery. After having announced that the Pentagon would not abandon its Kurdish allies, US envoys came to Ankara to do just that, and to approve the Turkish plan. As we have always said, it so happens that the leaders of « Rojava », this pseudo autonomous Kurdish state in Syrian territory, are almost all of Turkish nationality. They are therefore occupying the area that they had ethically cleansed. Their troops, of Syrian nationality, sent emissaries to Damascus to ask for President Bachar el-Assad’s protection. Let’s remember that the Kurds are a nomad population which was settled at the beginning of the 20th century. According to the King-Crane Commission and the International Conference of Sèvres (1920), a Kurdistan state is only legitimate within what is currently Turkish territory [4].

It is unlikely that France and Germany will allow Syria to reconquer the totality of the Islamic Emirate of Idlib, and will abandon their fantasy concerning a Kurdistan, wherever it may be (in Turkey, Iran, Iraq or Syria, but not in Germany, where Kurds number a million). They may be forced to do so.

Similarly, despite the current discussions, it is unlikely that, should Syria be decentralised, it would grant the slightest autonomy to the region that was occupied by the Turkish Kurds.

After several years of blockage, the liberation of Northern Syria depends entirely on the change of the Turkish paradigm, fruit of the errors by the United States and Russian Intelligence.

The de facto partition of Yemen

In Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Israël support President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, with an aim to exploit the oil reserves which straddle the border [5]. The latter has to face up to the rebellion of the Zaïdis, a school of Chiism. With time, the Saudis have received help from the Emirati, and the Zaïdi Resistance is supported by Iran. This war, fuelled by the Western powers, has provoked the worst famine of the 21st century.

However, unlike the organisation of the two sides, on 1 August, the Emirati coast-guards signed an agreement for transborder cooperation with the Iranian frontier police [6]. The same day, the head of the Yemeni militia, Abu Al-Yamana Al-Yafei – financed by the Emirates (known as the « Southern Transitional Council (STC) », or « Safety Belt », or again « Separatists ») – was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood of the Islah party, financed by Saudi Arabia [7].

Clearly, the alliance between two crown princes of Arabia and the Emirates, Mohammed ben Salmane (« MBS ») and Mohammed ben Zayed Al Nahyane (« MBZ »), is under pressure.

On 11 August, the militia supported by the Emirates attacked the presidential palace and several ministries in Aden, despite the support of Arabia for President Hadi, who had been sheltered in Riyadh for a long time. The following day, « MBS » and « MBZ » met in Mecca in the presence of King Salmane. They rejected the coup d’etat and called for a display of calm on the part of their respective troops. On 17 August, the pro-Emiratis evacuated the houses of government in good order..

During the week in which the « Separatists » had taken Aden, the Emirates had de facto control over the two coasts from the very strategic detroit of Bab el Mandeb linking the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Now that Riyadh has preserved its honour, it will be necessary to give something back to Abou Dhabi.

On the battlefield, the change can only be attributable to the Emirates, who, after heavy suffering, have learned the lesson of this unwinnable war. Prudently, they approached the Iranians before firing a warning shot intended for their powerful ally and neighbour, Saudi Arabia.

Musical chairs in Sudan

In Sudan, after President Omar el-Bechir (dissident Muslim Brother), had been overthrown by demonstrations of the Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC) and the rise in bread prices had been cancelled, a Military Council of Transition was handed power. Practically speaking, this social revolt and a few billion petro-dollars enabled the country – unknown to the demonstrators – to transit from a Qatari tutorship to another, Saudi tutorship [8].

On 3 June, a new demonstration by the AFC was dispersed in blood by the Military Council of Transition, causing 127 deaths. Faced with international condemnation, the Military Council began negotiations with civilians and came to an agreement on 4 August which was signed on 17 August. For a period of 39 months, the country will be governed by a Supreme Council composed of 6 civilians and 5 military officials, whose agreements do not specify their identities. They will be controlled by an Assembly of 300 members – nominated but not elected – including 67 % of the representatives of the AFC. There is evidently nothing democratic here, and none of the parties is complaining.

The economist Abdallah Hamdok, ex-manager of the UN Economic Commission for Africa will become the Prime Minister. He should obtain the lifting of sanctions on Sudan and reintegrate the country into the African Union. He will bring to trial ex-President Omar el-Bechir in his own country in order to guarantee that he will no longer risk being extradited to The Hague and arraigned before the International Criminal Court.

Real power will be held by « General » Mohammed Hamdan Daglo (alias « Hemetti »), who is not a General, not even a soldier, but the head of the militia employed by « MBS » in order to paralyse the Yemeni Resistance. During this game of musical chairs, Turkey – which has a military base on the Sudanese island of Suakin as a means of encircling Saudi Arabia – has said nothing.

Thus Turkey is accepting to lose in Idlib and Sudan in order to win against the pro-US Kurdish mercenaries. Only this last wager has anything vital for Turkey. It has taken a wealth of discussions for Turkey to realise that it can not win all these games at once, and that it must organise its priories.

The United States against Iranian Oil

London and Washington are pursuing their concurrence, set in motion seventy years ago, to control Iranian oil. Just as during the time of Mohammad Mossadegh, the British Crown intends to be the only decider concerning what belongs to them in Iran [9]. Washington, however, does not want the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq to benefit Teheran (a consequence of the Rumsfeld/Cebrowski doctrine) and means to fix the prices for world energy (the Pompeo doctrine) [10].

These two strategies came together with the seizing of the Iranian oil-tanker Grace 1 in the waters of the British colony of Gibraltar. Iran, in its turn, boarded two British tankers in the straits of Ormuz, pretending – the supreme insult – that the primary was transporting « contraband oil», in other words Iranian oil which was subsidised by London on the black market [11]. When the new British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, realised that his country had gone too far, he had the « surprise » to see the « independent » justice of his colony liberate the Grace 1. Washington immediately issued a mandate to seize it again.

Since the beginning of this affair, the Europeans have been paying for US policy, and protesting without much consequence [12]. Only the Russians are defending international Law – rather than their Iranian ally – as they did concerning Syria [13]. This allows them to maintain a political line which is always coherent.

In this dossier, Iran is demonstrating great tenacity. Despite the clerical about-face of the election of Sheik Hassan Rohani, in 2013, the country has been redirecting itself towards the national policy of the secular Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [14]. Its use of the Chiite communities in Saudi Arabia, Bahreïn, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen could morph into a simple solution. Here too, the long discussions of Astana could demonstrate that what is evident for one has become evident for all.


With time, the objectives of each protagonist have been organised into a hierarchy and are becoming clearer.

In conformity with its tradition, Russian diplomacy, unlike that of the United States, is not attempting to redefine frontiers and alliances. It is working to untie the contradictory objectives of its partners. Thus it helped the ex-Ottoman Empire and the ex-Persian Empire distance themselves from their religious definition – (the Muslim Brotherhood for the former, and Chiism for the latter – and return to a post-Imperial national definition. This evolution is clearly visible in Turkey, but supposes a change of leaders in Iran in order to become operational. Moscow is not seeking to « change the régimes », but to change some aspects of the mentalities.

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