LIVE UPDATES: Yesterday Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with President Vladimir Putin in a “private meeting” which a Russian analyst believes may have been a message from the Republican Party.
Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
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–Kashin Explains His âLetter to Leadersâ on âFontanka Officeâ
–TV Rain Interviews Volunteer Fighter Back from Donbass
–âI Was on Active Dutyâ: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov
“Today friendly dialogue between Putin and Kissinger will continue in Moscow,” [Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov] said, adding that they have long-lasting relations and always keep in touch. “Putin praises this opportunity to discuss current issues of foreign policy and opinion exchange on the prospects for further developments,” Peskov said.
Peskov also said Putin was meeting with Horst Seehofer, the prime minister of the German federal land of Bavaria — indicating that even when relations are strained, as they have been with Germany and the US — Putin finds people to talk to to pursue his aims.
“He was here as a private person,” he said when asked by TASS in what capacity the US politician visited Russia. “As you may know he was here last time in 2013, if I’m not mistaken. He also came here in 2010, when Putin led the government.
He had visited Russia before that and Putin had been Kissinger’s guest in the United States. Theirs are systematic contacts. They have long traditions.”
The Russian take may seem peculiar as Kissinger hasn’t been central to the news of the American primary elections, but Bratersky cited Politico reporting a year ago that “GOP hopefuls still line up to kiss the ring of the 91-year-old statesman.”
The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean.
The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State.
They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.
These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.
On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.
So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.
The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.
Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.
He has become a Yoda-like figure, bestowing credibility and a statesman’s aura to politicians of both parties, including ones who may not actually share his worldview.
A Kissinger endorsement could be a major boost in a crowded GOP field. Though he often sits out primary contests, Kissinger backed John McCain in December 2007 when the Arizona Republican was still fending off other challengers. (He even granted a much-needed private audience to McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, the next year.)
“The party is in a serious crisis; such figures as Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are on the rise. Not taking into account Bush, Marco Rubio shares Kissinger’s views, as a candidate of the republic establishment and an ‘alternative to Cruz and Trump.’
A critique of The Interpreter’s report, drawn from Moskovsky Komsomolets, later was later made by an unnamed source who spoke to The Nation — likely Graham or someone else at the Boisto meeting — saying the group met with Reshetnikov after their conference, not before, so our article (actually a translation of a Russian journalist’s analysis) was naive; he couldn’t be seen as influencing it.
But the sequencing of the RISS meeting and Boisto conference wasn’t the point; both the RISS meeting and the Boisto conference took place before the Minsk talks — which Resetnikov and his like-minded colleagues were active in sabotaging, so that the Boisto agenda — itself a compromise unacceptable to the Ukrainians — was even further watered down. Reshetnikov made a point of denouncing Kissinger personally, saying he was responsible for mass kidnappings of leftists in Latin America and accused the US of wanting to take over Ukraine.
“The days of the Obama Administration are coming to a close, and it no longer considers that it was to be very diplomatic with Russia. It seems that it is not important what the Kremlin thinks
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick