Analysis: Russia´s ambitions growing (JERUSALEM POST) By ORLY HALPERN 01/27/05)
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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
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
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
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
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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