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President Vladimir Putin has cunningly managed to give diplomacy a chance in the Syrian crisis that threatened to plunge the world into anarchy, says Kuseni Dlamini.
Johannesburg - Global public opinion is in flux with the drums of war having reduced their noise and pace as President Vladimir Putin of Russia has emerged as a shrewd statesman and global diplomat of note, as he has cunningly managed to give diplomacy a chance in the Syrian crisis that threatened to plunge the world into anarchy.
Putin has done a great job. That’s commendable. In the process, he has succeeded in repositioning himself and his country centre stage in the global affairs of our time.
Russia has always longed for its lost superpower status accorded to it during the Cold War era, largely based on the significant sphere of influence it had due to its dominance over numerous satellite states which were part of the then-communist bloc.
In Putin, most Russians see a strongman who can restore their lost position of glory and supremacy in global affairs. Putin has always branded himself as the trusted ex-KGB strongman who is keen to make Russia count. A quintessential nationalist par excellence.
His road to Damascus intervention has seen him emerge as an honest global power broker of note, almost at par with Washington. He has effectively used the Damascus crisis to reassert Moscow’s clout and esteem in global affairs and to push Washington on the defensive.
He is a master strategist and tactician who can turn a crisis situation into an opportunity for strategic repositioning and rebranding of self and country alike. This has been as good for his public persona as it has been for Russians’ sense of self-esteem and national pride.
It’s a win-win situation. Russians are as proud as the Americans, but don’t have much leverage in global affairs, as Russia is not as economically and politically vibrant as the US.
It is, at best, a shadow of its former self, whereas the US is the world’s most powerful economic, political, military and hegemonic superpower of our time. Russia’s intervention in Syria has to be partly viewed within this historic and contemporary context which partly shapes its psyche and approach to international relations.
It would, however, be unfair not to credit President Barack Obama’s open-mindedness as reflected in his willingness to consider and give Putin’s intervention a chance. Some would argue that he had no choice as he was isolated, especially when the British parliament delivered a humiliating anti-war vote in a special session called by Prime Minister David Cameron.
The “Putin Plan” is in vogue. It entails full disclosure within seven days by the Assad regime of all their chemical weapons and surrendering them to the international community.
In addition, Damascus has to sign up to the international convention against the possession and use of chemical weapons.
This is the only hope for some peace in our time. It’s imperative.
It would be the right step in the right direction. If Damascus fails to give full disclosure to the satisfaction of the international community, Washington is ready to strike.
The option to launch a strike, with UN support, must be kept alive to encourage the right behaviour to unlock a lasting political and diplomatic solution. In a way, Obama has also demonstrated shrewd statesmanship by giving the Assad regime a long rope to hang itself by.
It will have no place to hide if it fails to comply. No excuses. It now has two options: fully disclose and disarm yourself of chemical weapons, or get pounded by Washington, with the support of the international community, including your allies such as Russia, China and others.
This is a demonstration of statesmanship at work. The world needs that. It has been in short supply. Diplomacy matters. It works. It needs to be given a chance. It is significant that a member of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) coalition has emerged as a countervailing force to bring Washington to its senses.
The majority of Americans are happy. At least 60 percent of Americans are said, according to opinion polls, to be opposed to an attack on Damascus. I agree with them. We need peace.
What does Washington’s decision to halt its assault on Damascus tell us about the balance of forces in global politics and economics? First, it tells us that while Washington, by and large, remains the main dominant global superpower, its power is waning.
While I fully support Obama’s decision not to go to war with Syria, as I recently argued in this newspaper when the rumours of war started gaining momentum, it is very significant and I dare say historic, that Washington has backed off in favour of a diplomatic solution brokered by Moscow.
Last year, Obama explicitly proclaimed that a “red line would have been crossed” (and would trigger an attack on Syria) if the Assad regime unleashed chemical weapons on its people. The fact that Washington is not having its way is a good development in international relations, and should be welcomed. It is a sign of the rebalancing of global power relations under way as the “rise of the rest” (like the Brics and other increasingly assertive emerging markets) gains momentum.
President Jacob Zuma and his Brics counterparts met in Moscow recently at the Group of 20 summit and exchanged views on Syria and other issues. The successful intervention by Putin is as much a victory for Moscow as it is for the Brics coalition.
Pretoria needs to be actively and visibly engaged with the diplomatic track to peacefully resolving the Syrian crisis and giving peace a chance in our time in the Middle East and the world.
* Kuseni Dlamini is a Member of the National Council of the SA Institute of International Affairs.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.