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Analysis: Russia´s ambitions growing (JERUSALEM POST) By ORLY HALPERN 01/27/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1106796046758 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Ten billion dollars is a small price to pay to become an international player. That´s what Russia did this week, forfeiting most of Syria´s debt. In a formal declaration the two countries renewed their once intimate relationship, which began amidst the Cold War in the mid-Fifties and ended with the fall of the Soviet Republic a decade ago.

For Syria it is a win-win deal: Get a big ally who will protect you from the prolific threats of the US and act as your patron in the international arena. Get him to wipe out most of what you owe him, sell you weapons and expand your economic trade. Get him to be your broker in a peace deal with Israel. Get him to say you´re not so bad after all.

What´s in it for Russia? Russia´s ambitions are growing to Soviet-era size. It wants to be involved in the international games that are now the recreation of the European Union and the United States. But the US is not letting it get involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and it has little say in the Iraq issue because it refused to make war on a country that owed it so much money.

By renewing political and military relations with countries the US has blackballed, the downsized former superpower aims to bring back the glory of its Soviet-era days when it played countries like chess pieces.

Russia´s only hope for influence in the Middle East is by collecting the countries the world´s superpower has disavowed.

Four years ago Russia made a similar move to renew relations with Iran when it sent its defense minister to Teheran to begin a "new phase of military and technical cooperation." It was the first visit of a Russian defense minister since the Iranian revolution in 1979. The visit in December 2000 came one month after Moscow announced it was breaking the secret pact it made with Washington in 1995 not to sell arms to Iran.

Syria is a key ally, illustrated by the fact that it is the only foreign country where Russia still holds a naval base, and it´s now the only Arab country where Moscow can wield its influence in the Middle East.

Russia isn´t worried about Damascus´s bad-boy reputation. In the joint declaration signed this week, Moscow takes on the role of chaperone of Syria´s defense program to prevent the production of weapons of mass destruction. This gives Moscow the added distinction of being a member of the "war on terror" club.

It was therefore embarrassing to Moscow when a local daily reported that Russia was going to sell the Iskander-E missiles to Syria. Israel was quick to claim that the weapon, which can penetrate Israeli defenses, will get into terrorists hands. Both sides denied the report of the imminent sale, which news agencies have said was through a private arms manufacturer and not the government.

Syrian state newspapers say the report is an Israeli "fabrication," meant "as a pretext to escalate [Israel´s] hostile onslaught against Syria."

Russia probably will stop the alleged transaction to Syria, to avoid sabotaging its warming relations with Israel and its plans to broker peace between the two arch enemies.

You can´t play referee in the Middle East ball game if Israel doesn´t want you on the field. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/27/05)

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