Russia’s intervention in Syria seems to demarcate a major change in Russian policy. Russia in the past sought to benefit from instability, but it now fears instability. Russia and China appear aligned on the issue.
Vladimir Putin’s Sept. 28 address to the UN General Assembly was the most lucid account of the state of the world I have heard from any national leader in decades. It’s painful to hear the truth from Putin, but infinitely more painful to ignore it. Not only Russia, but China as well, regards the metastasizing Islamist movement as an existential threat. A seventh of the Russian population are Muslims; there probably are fewer than 25 million in China, but they dominate China’s enormous and sparsely-settled Western province of Xinjiang. We are not playing on the old chessboard of the Cold War, but on the suppurating ground of civilizational collapse.
We also remember certain episodes from the history of the Soviet Union. Social experiments for export, attempts to push for changes within other countries based on ideological preferences, often led to tragic consequences and to degradation rather than progress.
It seemed, however, that far from learning from others’ mistakes, everyone just keeps repeating them, and so the export of revolutions, this time of so-called democratic ones, continues. It would suffice to look at the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, as has been mentioned by previous speakers. Certainly political and social problems in this region have been piling up for a long time, and people there wish for changes naturally.
But how did it actually turn out? Rather than bringing about reforms, an aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster. Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.
ISIS grew out of Western blunders, Putin added:
It is now obvious that the power vacuum created in some countries of the Middle East and North Africa through the emergence of anarchy areas, which immediately started to be filled with extremists and terrorists.
Tens of thousands of militants are fighting under the banners of the so-called Islamic State. Its ranks include former Iraqi servicemen who were thrown out into the street after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many recruits also come from Libya, a country whose statehood was destroyed as a result of a gross violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. And now, the ranks of radicals are being joined by the members of the so-called moderate Syrian opposition supported by the Western countries.
He excoriated the West’s support for the Islamist opposition in Syria:
It would be equally irresponsible to try to manipulate extremist groups and place them at one’s service in order to achieve one’s own political goals in the hope of later dealing with them or, in other words, liquidating them.
To those who do so, I would like to say — dear sirs, no doubt you are dealing with rough and cruel people, but they’re in no way primitive or silly. They are just as clever as you are, and you never know who is manipulating whom. And the recent data on arms transferred to this most moderate opposition is the best proof of it.
Russia has an existential interest in suppressing ISIS, Putin added:
We believe that any attempts to play games with terrorists, let alone to arm them, are not just short-sighted, but fire hazardous (ph). This may result in the global terrorist threat increasing dramatically and engulfing new regions, especially given that Islamic State camps train militants from many countries, including the European countries.
Unfortunately, dear colleagues, I have to put it frankly: Russia is not an exception. We cannot allow these criminals who already tasted blood to return back home and continue their evil doings.
China is less vocal on the subject, but just as worried as Russia. One responsible analyst, Christine Lin of Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, speculates that China might send troops to Syria alongside Russia. Dr. Lin notes:
A new article reported that 3,500 Uyghurs are settling in a village near Jisr-al Shagour that was just taken from Assad, close to the stronghold of Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) that is in the Turkey-backed Army of Conquest. They are allegedly under the supervision of Turkish intelligence that has been accused of supplying fake passports to recruit Chinese Uyghurs to wage jihad in Syria.
The news comes on the heels of TIP capturing a Syrian airbase and acquiring MIG fighter jets as well as other advanced weaponry, similar to ISIS capturing Iraqi army’s advanced US weaponry….
Through Turkey’s support for the Army of Conquest, TIP has risen to prominence within the anti-Assad coalition and played a key role in defeating the Syrian army at Jisr al Shughour earlier this year.
The most prominent TIP fighter to emerge from the Jisr al Shughur videos was the spokesman for TIP’s “Syria branch” since 2014, Abu Ridha al-Turkistani. In the videos he led fighters to take over a building, and climbed a clock tower to plant a black-and-white Jabhat al Nusra style flag on which “Turkistan Islamic Party” was written in Arabic.
These Uyghur militants have claimed a series of high-profile terrorists attacks in China in 2013 and 2014, with some Uyghurs calling for anintifada against the Chinese communist regime.
I cannot independently confirm the news reports that Dr. Lin cites, but China is extremely worried about the flow of Uyghur separatists out of China into Turkey (one Chinese source told me that Turkish embassies in Southeast Asia have 100,000 blank passports on hand to help Uyghurs reach Turkey as they leave China via Yunnan province. Wahhabist madrassas are proliferating in China’s Western Xinjiang province, financed by individual Saudis out of the apparent control of the monarchy. A senior Chinese analyst told me that Beijing fears Saudi Arabia and its influence on Sunni Islamists in China more than anything else in the Middle East.
Washington has done little more than to scold its Turkish ally for helping Sunni jihadists in Syria, while letting Ankara run wild. Moscow (with Beijing’s evident support) appears ready to curb the Turks. As Kadri Gursel reports in AI-Monitor, Russia’s deployment of fighter aircraft will prevent Turkey from providing de facto air cover for Turkish-backed Islamists.
It’s a radically changed world, and Putin’s intervention in Syria appears to be a game-changer.