Two recent developments are very important in terms of shaping the region Turkey is in. The first is Vladimir Putin’s re-election as Russian president for the third time, with 65 percent of the vote.
The other was US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s statement at the Senate Armed Services Committee announcing that the US was not thinking of launching a military operation against Syria. A similar statement made by US President Barack Obama is still fresh. Those two developments give us clues not only about the foreign policy of two international powers but also about the future of the regions that interest them closely. These clues need to be analyzed carefully both by academics and foreign policymakers, as those two developments give us the picture of a new international era.
Putin’s election to the Russian presidency once again was no surprise, though his high percentage of votes was. Both the possibility of Putin having been politically worn out and the steadily rising anti-Putin opposition caused his glowing victory to be a genuine surprise. Putin’s tears during his thank-you speech, seen by the whole world, were not out of happiness alone but were most probably the expression of his astonishment over the high percentage of votes he received. That solid support will no doubt boost Putin’s courage. Enjoying a large grassroots backing, Putin may pursue an even tougher policy in the forthcoming term. This will be mirrored not only by his domestic but also his foreign policy.
We know that Putin has a tough foreign policy and is opposed to the military and security policies of the US. In the speech he delivered in 2007 at the 43rd Security Conference in Munich, Putin accused the US of crossing borders and trying to impose its wishes on everyone and said Washington’s policies in Iran and Georgia, NATO expansion and deploying missiles in the region pushed the world into insecurity. Putin’s views show that Russia will not easily reach a compromise with the US.
These views also give us the clues of what kind of foreign policy Russia will be pursuing in the new term. Conditions in the world are not better, but worse, as compared to those of 2007. The Arab spring, the Syrian and Iranian crises, the deployment of the missile shield in Turkey and instability in the Caucasus are bound to be the starring themes in Putin’s foreign policy strategies. A stance even tougher than that of former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev regarding all those issues should not surprise anyone. The kind of foreign policy Putin will stick to in the new term will be contingent on the policies pursued by his rivals. What is apparent is that the US tops the list of such countries. The statements made by Obama and Panetta could not have been made only with the influence of the approaching US presidential election. They are also the manifestation of Washington’s unwillingness to confront Russia. The most critical aspect of the present state of affairs is the economic and financial crisis the US and the Western countries are going through at the moment. The failure on the part of the US and NATO countries to resolve problems in Iraq and Afghanistan have both eroded their prestige and become additional economic and financial burdens.
A Washington administration viewed as incapable of sorting out those problems comes across as too feeble and meek to embark upon a new adventure in Syria or elsewhere. Here, we should remember that the US played second fiddle even in the Libya operation, despite the legitimacy of UN Security Council resolutions in 1970 and 1973. With no legitimacy regarding Syria and a massive opposition from economic giant China as well as mighty Russia to reckon with, the US cannot be viewing an operation in Syria favorably, or resembling the one in Libya.
With Russia’s scathing criticism of the US, the UK and France over the Libya operation, we cannot believe that Russia will be in support of a foreign operation in Syria. Russia will do that not only to safeguard its interests in Syria, but also to prevent the entire region from slipping through its hands. The foreign policy strategies and discourse of the countries other than the US and Russia also need to be examined in light of the new international balances. More moderate and dialogue-based methods and formations should be preferred to radical changes involving speed and violence. As we are not living in the Cold War era and there is no ideological fracture, Turkey and the other countries should not be wary of multilateral diplomacy and cooperation.
As in the recent past, Turkey should strengthen dialogue with Putin’s Russia and negotiate with Moscow not only for energy cooperation and economic, trade and political relations, but also to try to resolve the Syria, Iran and other crises. We should acknowledge that the problems in the region cannot be smoothed out by ignoring Russia and China, something the US has also long realized.
Confrontations punctuated with military initiatives and violence can never be resolved without UN Security Council resolutions. Therefore, in the case of Syria, for example, the strategy of changing the regime should be pursued by settling the crisis.
*Professor Ramazan Gözen is an instructor at Yıldırım Beyazıt University.