A Potential New War. Part 2

Back at the end of March I wrote about the high possibility that Turkey would start a conflict with Syria. You can see it here I began hearing that there was a very good chance of this happening about 6 months ago. As of a couple of days ago there has been an interesting development which brings this likelihood even closer.

Turkey has sent a protection force comprising of main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers and some 300 troops to protect the tomb of Suleyman Shah. This tomb is the supposed resting place of the grand father of Osman 1, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. For the moment they say they are there simply to protect it from damage, but damage by whom? Seemingly not the Islamic extremist group ISIL, Erdogan said and I quote “Right now, the issue is not about ISIL” and this protection force is only a few hundred metres from the Islamist base camp in the area. Something else must be afoot.

As I said in my first article on this topic, Turkey is becoming more belligerent and expansionist, it would like to reclaim some of the land it lost at the end of the Ottoman Empire. The northern territories of Syria are to be honest, ripe for the taking. It would appear that If Turkey does try to reclaim territory it will have the backing of the USA. Another important point is the fact that historically under the Ottoman empire, Turkey acted as the spiritual leader for Sunni Muslims, when the empire fell after the 1st world war Saudi Arabia stepped into that role with its own brand of Islam, Wahabism or Salafism. Turkey still believes that it should be the global leader for Muslims. Over time it is looking for ways to re-assert its influence and expanding into Syria is one way of starting to re-balance the Salafi influence as well as constrict the movement of the Shia Muslims of Iran who control Bashar al Assad and his regime.

Looking at the long term situation in Syria, things are looking quite mixed for Bashar al Assad. While he has been able to consolidate his grip on the region from Damascus up towards Homs and then on to the coastal areas of Latakia, including the strategically important port of Tartous, elsewhere in the country things are not looking so good for his regime. In the south around the Daraa region, moderate rebels under the command of Bashar al Zoubi of the Al Yarmouk Division, whom I met a couple of times are being able to create an area which is slowly pushing back the Syrian army. They are working on creating an autonomous area and until now there have been no major problems with Al Nusra and other extremists. It must be mentioned though that Jordan is being very firm about which areas the moderate rebels are permitted to try and take, I have this information directly from my contacts in the Al Yarmouk Division.

In the north, the extremists hold a lot more ground and the regime is regularly dropping barrel bombs from helicopters into civillian areas, particularly in Aleppo. In Menbij, ISIS are wreaking havoc, killing anybody who stands in their way. The moderate rebels in the north have very few resources and are not able to put up much resistance. The entrance of Turkey into northern Syria, ostensibly to protect the tomb could well be a precursor to a full on military assault to push out the extremists and annex the land. The moderates would be in no position to stop them and so it seems neither will Assad.

I’m going to join up a few dots now and see where this leads us. Assad has 2 main backers, Iran and Russia. Without these, Assad would have fallen a long time ago. The situation now is that Iran is financially in difficulty, it has just cut fuel subsidies for its people, the price of fuel has jumped overnight by nearly 75% for Iranians. The government in Tehran would not have done this unless it really needed the money, the problem is the Iranian population are also suffering, there is very high unemployment and under employment. Fuel cost rises will feed into inflation, food and heating will become more expensive etc. It is costing Iran a fortune to continue its support of Assad. Then we have Russia, many people don’t realize just how financially fragile Russia is at the moment, its banking sector is facing an enormous problem of bad loans. The crisis with Ukraine will probably lead to sanctions being put on Russian banks cutting them off from the global financial system. All this is keeping Putin busy, will he also have the resources to continue supporting Assad? Time will tell.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote that the result of the war in Syria would end up with the division of the country. The revolution has been hijacked, the people’s popular uprising along with their desire to regain their dignity and security after 40 years of the Assad’s family rule of the country, all has come to nothing, their country is in ruins while half the population is displaced. The reasons for this are shockingly simple. If the Syrian Revolution had been allowed to succeed then many countries would have lost their political influence in one of the most strategically important countries in the Middle East. Iran would have lost all its investment in Syria as well as having its hegemonic ambitions curtailed. Any new people’s government might or might not have been ambivalent towards Israel so the USA and Israel didn’t want to take the chance of the people succeeding in their revolution, just in case. Russia would lose its only port in the Mediterranean. There would be much to be lost for many countries if the people had been able to decide for themselves how they want their country to be governed.

Instead, we now have a situation where international geo-politics prefers a solution that divides the country and balances the power of Sunni and Shia Muslims across a huge swathe of the Middle East. In the north Turkey will take control of large areas, In the south Jordan will have control over the southern liberated region, using the moderate rebels there to do the fighting to create such a zone, as is happening today. Assad if he can hang on and I think he will, will continue to hold territory from Damascus up to the coastal region. Of course if he can hold on he will be much weaker than before. Essentially what this will do is create a new Sunni/Shia balance. Sunni Turkey and Jordan controlled areas to the north and south. Shia controlled areas from Damascus to the coast sandwiched between the Sunni. This division will enhance the security of Israel and curtail the hegemonic ambitions of Iran. The only way for this to succeed is if both Russia and Iran are sufficiently weakened and are unable to support Assad as before. Therefore I would propose that the current Russia/Ukraine crisis is part of the strategy, Russia will be destabilized soon, dangerously so. Iran is suffering economically, the end of fuel subsidies is a good indicator of the pain, can it really afford to continue supporting Assad and lending money to him to buy Russian military hardware? Hopefully now you can see how all this ties in with Turkey’s movement into Syria and what we can expect in the not too distant future.

As I said in a recent article, conditions in the world are very similar to those shortly before the outbreak of WW1. Watch this space.

Ukraine: War is coming, part 3

It seemed that the talks in Geneva between Russian, Ukrainian and US counterparts had opened up a possibility for all those involved to step back from the brink, calm the situation down and work things out. To be honest, for a brief moment, I thought there could be some mature, adult behavior and things might be resolved. I was foolish to think this, since when have political leaders shown any sort of grown up pragmatism in dealing with serious problems? They are more interested in their petty power plays. They are lesser sons, ignoble offspring, unfit for purpose and certainly unfit to govern. I aim that at all politicians and rulers, everywhere.

So now we have an escalating situation in Ukraine, the number of small skirmishes seem to be increasing on a daily basis. How long will it be before we see a major assault take place, it appears to only be a matter of time, sooner rather than later! The opportunities to step back from the brink are becoming fewer by the day as tension mounts. As I said in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series; they are stumbling towards war, blind to the consequences which will befall them.

One of the areas of the Ukraine/Russia crisis that doesn’t get much attention at the moment is the role of the Orthodox church, its involvement in the political affairs of both countries. I first wrote about it in early March, you can find it here Further to this, at Easter you can see the involvement of the Orthodox church on both sides when you take notice of what was said when they addressed their followers. In Ukraine, Patriarch Filaret condemned Russian aggression, directly calling Russia an enemy. Meanwhile in Russia, Patriarch Kirill while he called for peace and cooperation between Ukraine and Russia he also called for, and I quote “end to the designs of those who want to destroy Holy Russia.”

To understand the full impact of this you need to know what he meant when he said “Holy Russia”, from a Russian nationalist point of view there is no difference between Russia and Ukraine, they are one and the same, the birth of Russia as we know it originates in Ukraine. Modern Russian nationalism sees Ukraine as a country to be fully united into Russia. The Russian Orthodox church is a key proponent of this, Patriarch Kirill is extremely nationalistic and also extremely close to Vladimir Putin. Kirill is a key Putin supporter, preaching from the pulpit that Putin is the man of the hour and there to save Russia and unite “Holy Russia” So we have the Orthodox church, Ukrainian and Russian, both supposedly Christian, using their enormous political power in their respective countries to foment war regarding an idea that goes against anything that is taught by the faith they proclaim to follow.

Besides strongly resurgent Russian nationalism, it also appears that there is another reason for Russia’s actions. Appealing to the Russian masses sense of nationalism is a very effective way of taking their minds away from other deeper, systemic problems. The Russian economy is very fragile, money is being drained out of its economy at a huge rate, the national bank is having to use its reserves to maintain liquidity, the banking sector is very fragile, it is facing a situation of sub-prime business loans similar to the sub-prime property loan crisis in the USA back in 2007/2008, the main difference is that the big Russian banks are owned by those who are personally close to Putin. The price of crude oil is falling, the Russian economy is based on oil/gas exports and depends on maintaining a certain price level. At the moment the price is about $110 per barrel. Russia or should I say Putin, needs the price to be about $115 per barrel in order to have enough money to keep paying the people the vast amounts he must for their continued support. Then we have to consider China, its shadow banking sector is in a huge speculative bubble which when it bursts will have implications for the wider Chinese economy, this will depress demand which will be reflected in the amount of energy it consumes and buys from Russian which will further depress oil/gas prices, reducing further the income Russia gets from its energy exports. Faced with these situations, a man such as Putin is going to be pressed into a corner, he will come out fighting, looking for ways to put the blame on others, a war with Ukraine would be a useful distraction, he is being left with little other choice. It is funny in an ironic way, the desire to hold on to power no matter what, will lead people into the most self destructive situations imaginable, and I aim this at the global political, business and religious system, not only Putin. When I look at the world today it reminds me of how the world was shortly before the outbreak of WW1. Watch this space.

 

 

Russia, Crimea and the Eastern Orthodox Church Lead Way To War

The Crimea region of Ukraine is now under de facto Russian control. It is a simple fact on the ground. The rights and wrongs of this are for others to discuss, I’m more interested in the reasons why and the possible consequences.

As I was going through various news sources over the weekend, what else can I do after a knee operation, I saw a picture that stopped me in my tracks. It shouldn’t surprise me, the role of religion in politics is hardly new. The image I saw, link here, was of Eastern Orthodox priests blessing Russian troops as they take control of Crimea. I have been thinking about this image and what it means.

Outside the Orthodox community many people don’t realize just how powerful the Orthodox church is and how much power and influence it has in Russian politics. Its Patriarch, Kirill Gundyaev and Vladimir Putin have been forging strong links for more than a decade, even though there is an official separation of Church and State in the Russian Constitution. Kirill is a Russian nationalist through and through, believing that Russia should play a major role, even a dominant one, in world affairs as part of his belief in  ‘Russian Civilization’, coincidentally when Putin was campaigning to become Russian President in 2012 he put the idea of ‘Russian Civilization’ at the heart of his campaign, something he was influenced to do by Patriarch Kirill perhaps? Why not, the two men have been close for years and Kirill is very good at influencing political thinking.

As a result, the Orthodox church has tremendous power, so when events erupted in Ukraine one can imagine that Kirill with his very strong nationalistic tendencies would have been eager to use the opportunity to encourage Putin to take back control of the Crimea, historically a part of Russia. Add to this the long term disputes between the Orthodox church and the Vatican over property and influence in Ukraine and you begin to realize how the current situation is playing into the hands of the Orthodox. For a thousand years the Church and State have been different sides of the same coin. Only during the Soviet period was the link broken but after the collapse of The Soviet Union actions were quickly taken to rebuild the power and influence of the Church. Although never proven, as any inquiry has always been blocked, there is strong circumstantial evidence that Patriarch Kirill had very close links to the KGB and Politburo in the days when the Church was heavily controlled. Kirill is known as an astute politician and diplomat, as a very worldly man he knows how to use difficult circumstances to his advantage. The strategic thinking of the Orthodox Church would have had them urgently looking at ways to take advantage of the unrest in Ukraine.

While good for the Orthodox church, the risks to Putin are high. This is one of the clever games of Kirill, influence a leader to take action and if it goes wrong he can come out of the situation looking relatively innocent with the knowledge that a political backlash against him would be difficult to implement because of the Church’s influence over the majority of the Russian population. If on the other hand things go wrong for Putin and his government in their approach to Ukraine then the Russian economy is going to suffer, it will be trusted even less than before and the Cold War could easily return. Putin’s pride would also take a very personal hit as the country would blame him directly if things go wrong.

The situation in Ukraine is still developing, as of time of writing no shots have yet been fired. While Russia has moved troops into the Crimea region there are many questions about overall Russian military readiness, it has an extremely top heavy command structure and the numbers of soldiers ready to fight is less than many suspect. Add to the fact that a lot of Russian military hardware is less than reliable and you begin to understand the gamble that Putin is taking. There is a part of me that wonders if maybe he was encouraged to act against his better judgement by the Orthodox church which supplies him with so much of his popular support through their preaching from the pulpit. Looking at the situation now it would seem that Russia would like to provoke Ukraine into firing the first shot, but whoever fires the first shot the consequences for the Ruble will be dramatic. Ukraine on the other hand is also on the verge of bankruptcy, its options are limited unless the promise of funds made by the West come to fruition. Don’t under estimate the Ukrainians, they have been developing a reputation as an arms exporter. When the Soviet Union collapsed they inherited a lot of factories that make military hardware. A lot of these were closed but what they have done is improved on the designs of Soviet era hardware and then selling it, their quality control is recognized as being better than that of Russia, hence one of the reasons why they have been able to successfully develop their exports. Ukrainians also have a strong backbone and will not give up without a fight if that is what they feel they must do.

The situation is still very fluid, the stakes on both sides are extremely high and the Orthodox Church in Russia is influencing the situation more than most people realize. The next 24-48 hours are going to be interesting.

Let’s talk about Russia and Ukraine

The situation is heating up at the moment. The ethnic Russians of Crimea, which is an autonomous region of Ukraine but until the 1950’s was part of Russia is making a very determined effort to separate itself from the rest of Ukraine. Putin now has approval from the Duma, Russian parliament, to protect Russians in Ukraine, militarily if need be.

So what might happen. Obviously this is a very fluid situation at the moment. We have both Ukraine and Russia saying they want to maintain the geographic integrity of the country. If that will actually happen is another question. There is no denying the fact that eastern Ukraine is inhabited by predominantly ethnic Russians who want to have closer ties to the motherland. The easiest solution would be for Ukraine to split along ethnic lines.

However if there is a fight between the two countries the outcome would not necessarily be guaranteed for Russia. While it does have a very big army it also has a big problem, namely a very top heavy command structure. Officers make a very big proportion of its fighting force and they have spent the last decades working on making themselves richer rather than acting as one would expect them to. They simply are not battle ready for a genuine fight on a large scale. Add to this the fact that when the Soviet Union collapsed a lot of military manufacturing plants that were placed in Ukraine by the Soviet leadership were handed over to Ukraine.

It is true that Ukraine simply didn’t have the funds to keep a lot of these factories going and closed a lot of them. But over the last few years Ukraine has slowly been developing a name for itself as an arms exporter of Russian copy weapons. The reason for this is due to the fact that Ukrainian engineering is seen as being of higher quality than that of Russia. If the two countries do come into combat against each other then Ukraine will have access to higher quality equipment of the same make that Russia also uses.

Then you have to throw into the equation the fact that Ukraine has pretty much run out of money. Unless it can get some financial backing from somewhere it simply wont be able to afford a war to resist Russia if it attacks, at the same time it might feel that desperate times call for desperate measures and throw everything it has at Russia, which I have to say would give Russia something to seriously think about. Russia is not as militarily strong as she portrays herself to be and Putin knows this.

So where does this leave things? For the time being, until things become more apparent, I would say that eastern Ukraine will ultimately return to Russia, and with it very good agricultural land that would be good for Russia as it has very little of its own.

Then of course we have to throw The USA into the pot. These are two countries which thrive on trying to outwit the other. What will USA involvement be, only time will tell, but I can assure you that it wont be able to resist using the situation to try and stir up the Russia/Ukraine situation for its own benefit. I’m not taking sides, Russia also takes every opportunity it can to make life more difficult for the USA. That is the nature of their rivalry.

The next few days will throw more light on the situation. At the end I am trying to get across the fact that if Russia is looking for a war it wont be like taking on Georgia as she did a couple of years ago, admittedly it was Georgia who started that fight. Ukraine might be poor but she also has certain strengths which will give Russia pause for thought. Watch this space.