Russia, a superpower on the rebound
Recent days have witnessed a spike in Russia's anti-American policy, with the Syrian crisis placing the world's largest country back at the forefront of the international stage. President Vladimir Putin recently made two major strategic moves: vetoing the measures against Syria at the UN Security Council, and bypassing the US administration to reach out to the American public through a New York Times op-ed advocating a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis and opposing military action.
Thus Russia has declared its old-new agenda of reinstating itself as a global power by offering diplomatic solutions to standoffs in such hotspots such as Iran, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This can also be seen in a number of arms trade agreements with countries Russia has traditionally shown interest in. This surge of global activity is aimed to elbow out the US where ever it can, in view of the ongoing weakening of the US and its withdrawal from military, political and economic involvement in different areas around the world.
One of the best examples is the aid package to the tune of $1 billion offered to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. The deal was made after the Kyrgyzi parliament ordered the US to shut down its airforce base at Manas – a staging post for US troops and supplies in the Afghanistan conflict – by July 2014. The move, along with the extension of the lease of Russia's air base in Kyrgyzstan by 15 years appears to secure Russia a Central-Asian ally.
The area of Central Asia includes five states – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan – resting between Russia and China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, a fact that makes them strategically important for Russia. They are also rich in gas and oil, which makes Russia hanker for the bygone days of the Soviet Union, when the states were its republics and it could exploit their natural resources as it pleased.
Recently Russia signed a military treaty with Tajikistan to the tune of $200 million, and the Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon vowed to ratify the lease of a military base to Russia during his latest visit to Moscow. Russia has also been active in the Caucasus, signing a $4 billion military deal with Azerbaijan, a rival of Armenia and Russia's ally in the region.
As to the ever volatile Middle East, reports in the media indicate that in addition to its support for Assad's regime, Russia will supply weapons to Libya and train Libyan soldiers. Iran too has enjoyed Russia's support for its controversial uranium enrichment program, increasingly seen as a threat by Western powers. Russia has repeatedly offered solutions to Iran's tense standoff with the West.
A few days ago the Russian parliament passed a resolution stating that should the American "party of war" launch a military strike against Syria, Russia would see fit to take more decisive measures -- meaning increasing its weapon supply to Iran and reassessing the partnership with the US in Afghanistan.
Russia's signing of a series of international treaties and involvement in Central Asia and the Middle East, coinciding the US and other Western countries retreating from those areas, suggests that Russia is out to revitalize its status as a superpower akin to the Soviet Empire. To that end, it is carrying out extensive development of military systems and technologies. For several years, large budgets have been allocated to the upgrading and renovation to the infantry, navy and airforce, including supplying the military with the most advanced technologies.
If the Russian solution to the Syrian crisis is successful, perhaps the Iranian standoff too will be solved through diplomacy rather than force. Following the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, the world will see a far more confident Russia. Unless flagrant errors are made, more and more international bodies will be forced to acknowledge the growing power and influence of Putin's Russia.
Baruch Ben-Neria is former Israeli ambassador to Georgia and Armenia and a lecturer on Soviet and Russian military history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem