Political report submitted to the Central Committee of the Da’am Workers Party
23 March 2014
The global political arena is undergoing dangerous and dramatic changes. The conflict in the Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex the Crimea further inflames tensions between the US and Russia, and is undoubtedly a surprising development in the relations between the two superpowers following a long period of cooperation in solving crises around the world, especially concerning the Iranian nuclear issue and chemical weapons in Syria. The former cooperation between the Obama administration and the Kremlin appeared to reflect a new framework for a new pattern of international relations. This followed the temporary agreement with Iran, which also isolated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But it seems Putin has decided to exchange international cooperation for the assertion of new facts regarding the status and influence of Russia in certain parts of the world, similar to the situation during the USSR period. Putin is attempting to fill the void left by Obama using his military might and energy resources. One of the arenas about which there is no agreement is Syria, where Putin maintains unreserved support for Assad, who is murdering his people, while the US refuses to accept Assad as partner in any future arrangement and calls for his removal.
But the events in the Ukraine are not happening by chance. They are the result of profound processes linked to Russia’s history following the collapse of the USSR, and the West’s role in the weakening and dismantling of the socialist bloc. The West’s behavior regarding Russia during Yeltsin’s leadership caused an enormous economic and human catastrophe due to the economic policies dictated by the US: the privatization of the public sector, the elimination of the USSR and the domination of US influence in the former soviet republics, and the inclusion of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to the NATO alliance contrary to American promises to Gorbachev that NATO would not be extended eastwards. All this is in addition to the Balkan war which dismantled Yugoslavia and stirred up animosity in Russia towards the West, and the fundamental change when Putin took over in 2000. Putin came to power after Russia had declared bankruptcy in 1998. The Yeltsin “family” and a very small number of capitalists took control in various ways of the State’s resources and the Russian economy, particularly in energy, metals and banking. For Putin, the dismembering of the USSR was an historic error which must be reversed.
Syria: the last straw
Obama’s entry to the White House marked a fundamental change in US foreign policy. Instead of exploiting its military strength to impose American hegemony around the world, and seeing Russia as an enemy, Washington began seeking cooperation with Russia for solving international conflicts, seeing Russia as a partner in the framework of the G8.
Obama decided to withdraw his plan to deploy 10 interceptor missiles and a radar on Polish soil, and worked to build trust with Putin. But Putin did not play along, and interpreted the new Washington policy as US weakness which could be exploited. Bush tried to reap the fruits of US Cold War victory by humiliating Russia and using military force to impose US dominance by occupying Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein. In contrast, following US defeat in Iraq, Obama seeks to reduce military spending and redirect resources to economic development and welfare. Putin meanwhile acts according to Bush’s logic, and hopes to take advantage of US defeat to restore the influence Russia enjoyed during the Cold War. While Europe worked to include Russia in the European market, Putin worked to build an alternative market with states in the East which were once part of the USSR known as the Eurasian Economic Community customs union. Just as Germany has become a central axis in the European Union, Russia hopes to become the central axis in a new “Eurasian Union.” Putin does all he can to provoke Obama, and his decision to offer asylum to Edward Snowden, who revealed the NSA’s global surveillance programs, was a slap in the face for the White House. However, the Americans were compelled to restrain themselves on this issue.
The Syrian revolution was a test for US-Russia relations, as there was direct conflict between the superpowers over Assad’s regime. While Russia supports Assad, supplies military aid and provides diplomatic patronage at the Security Council, Obama has called for Assad’s removal since the start of the conflict. Here too Putin sees Obama’s position as a sign of weakness. While US policy was marked by hesitancy, Russia and Iran provided strong support for Assad. Despite the West’s efforts