by F. William Engdahl
July 23, 2012
from GlobalResearch Website
Since reassuming his post as Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin has lost no
minute in addressing the most urgent geopolitical threats to Russia
Not surprisingly, at the center of his agenda is the
explosive situation in the Middle East, above all Syria. Here Putin is
engaging every imaginable means of preventing a further deterioration of the
situation into what easily could become another “world war by
His activities in recent weeks involve active personal
diplomacy with Syria’s government as well as the so-called opposition
“Syrian National Council.” It involves intense diplomacy with Erdogan’s
Turkey regime. It involves closed door diplomacy with Obama.
direct diplomacy with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.
Syria itself, contrary to what most western media portray, is a
long-standing multi-ethnic and religiously tolerant secular state with an
Alawite Muslim President Bashar Al-Assad, married to a Sunni wife. The
Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam which doesn’t force their women to
wear head scarves and are liberal by Sunni standards, especially in the
fundamentalist places like Saudi Arabia where women are forbidden to even
hold a driver’s license.
The overall Syrian population is a diverse mix of Alawites, Druze and Kurds, Sunnis, and Armenian Orthodox Christians. Were
the minority regime of Al-Assad to fall, experts estimate that, like in
Egypt, the murky Sunni (as in Saudi Arabia) Muslim Brotherhood organization
would emerge as the dominant organized political force, something certainly
not welcome in Tel Aviv and certainly not in either Russia or China.1
According to an informed assessment by Gajendra Singh, retired Indian
diplomat with decades of service in the Middle East and a deep familiarity
with the ethnic mix inside Syria, were the minority Alawite regime of
Al-Assad to fall, the country would rapidly descend into a bloodbath that
would make estimates of 17,000 killed to date a mere prelude.
“A defeat of Assad led regime will lead to slaughter of Alawites,
Shias, Christians, even Kurds and Druzes. In all, 20 % of a population of 20
That would be some 4 million Syrians.
That ought to be food for thought for
those in the West cheering on a murky dubious opposition “Syrian National
Council” that is dominated by the ominous Muslim Brotherhood, and an armed
opposition “Free Syrian Army” that has been reported even by the New York
Times as rife with factional armed splits.
Moreover the conflict were it to
descend into a Libya-like internal bloodbath, would spill over across the
Syrian border into Turkey. Syrian coastal area has a significant Alawite
population and a large number of Alawites live in the adjoining Turkish
provinces of Hatay and Antakya.
To sort out fact from fiction inside Syria is daunting as media are limited
and opposition spokesmen have been repeatedly caught lying about events. In
one recent instance, a UK journalist claimed he was deliberately led into a
potential death trap by rebel opposition forces to score propaganda against
the Damascus regime.
The UK Channel 4 News's chief correspondent, Alex
Thomson, told AP that Syrian rebels set him up to die in no man's land near
the Lebanese border, saying they wanted to use his death at the hands of
government forces to score propaganda points.3
And in one brazen example of
political manipulation, BBC was recently caught publishing a photograph it
claimed was of a massacre at Al-Houla on 25 May 2012, in which 108 persons
are known to have died including 49 children. It turned out the picture had
been taken by Italian photo journalist, Marco Di Lauro in Iraq in 2003.4
The stakes in this geopolitical chess game are nothing less than survival
first of Syria as a sovereign nation, whatever its flaws and defects. More,
it ultimately involves the survival of Iran, Russia and China as sovereign
nations together with the other BRIC states Brazil, India and South Africa.
Longer term, it involves the matter of survival of civilization as we know
it and avoidance of a world war that would decimate the world population not
by tens of millions as seventy years ago but likely this time by billions.
The Syria stakes for Moscow
Russia’s Putin has drawn a deep hard line in the sand around the survival of
Al-Assad and Syria as a stable state.
Few ask why Russia is warning of
possible world war if Washington persists to demand immediate regime change
in Syria as Hillary Clinton is doing. It is not because Russia is intent on
advancing its own imperialist agenda in the Middle East. It’s in little
shape militarily and economically to do so even if it had wanted.
is about preserving port rights to Russia’s only Mediterranean naval port at Tartus, the only remaining Russian military base outside the former Soviet
Union, and its only Mediterranean fueling spot. In event of a showdown with
NATO the base becomes strategic to Russia.
Yet there is more at stake for Russia. Putin and Russia’s foreign minister,
Sergei Lavrov, have made clear were NATO and the USA to launch military
action against Assad’s Syria, the consequences would be staggering. Reliable
sources in Damascus have reported the presence of at least 100,000 Russian
“technical advisers” in the country.
That’s a lot, and a Russian freighter
carrying rebuilt Russian Mi-25 attack helicopters is reportedly bound for
Syria, while several days earlier a Russian naval flotilla sailed for Tartus
led by the Russian destroyer, Admiral Chabanenko.
An earlier attempt to send the rebuilt helicopters back to Syria which had
earlier purchased them, was blocked in June off Scotland’s coast when it
sailed under a non-Russian freighter flag. Now Moscow has made clear it will
tolerate no interference in its traffic with Damascus.
Ministry spokesman, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, announced that,
“The fleet will be
sent on task to guarantee the safety of our ships, to prevent anyone
interfering with them in the event of a blockade. I remind you there are no
limits,” he soberly added.5
In so many words, what Moscow is announcing is
that it is willing to face a 21st Century version of the 1962 Cuba Missile
Crisis if NATO foolishly persists in pressing regime change in Damascus.
As it has openly emerged that the so-called democratic opposition in Syria
is being dominated by the shadowy Muslim Brotherhood, hardly an organization
renowned for multi-ethnic democratic tendencies, a victory for a US-backed
Muslim Brotherhood regime in Syria, Moscow also believes, would unleash a
wave of Muslim-led destabilizations across Central Asia into republics of
the former Soviet Union.
China is also extremely sensitive about such a
danger, only recently confronted with bloody riots of Muslim organization in
its oil-rich Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province, quietly sponsored by the
Russia has joined firmly with China since both nations fell into a
catastrophic trap over abstaining in the UN Security Council from vetoing
the US Resolution. That US resolution opened the door to NATO destruction of
not only Mohammar Ghaddafi, but of Libya itself as a functioning country.
This author has spoken personally in Moscow and in Beijing since the Libya
debacle asking well-informed persons in both places how in effect they could
have been so short-sighted on Libya. They both clearly have since concluded
that further advance of Washington’s agenda for what George W. Bush called
the Greater Middle East Project is diametrically opposed to the national
interest of both China and Russia, hence the iron opposition to the NATO
agenda in Syria for regime change.
To date Russia and China, Permanent veto
members of the UN Security Council, have three times exercised their veto
over new US-sponsored sanctions against Syria, the latest on July 19.
Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insist on a strict adherence to
the proposed peace plan of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
what Washington prefers to generously read into it, the Six Point Annan Plan
calls for no regime change, rather for a negotiated settlement and end to
the fighting on both sides, a ceasefire.
Washington’s Janus-faced duplicity
Aligned on the side of violent regime change in Syria are a bizarre
coalition that includes, in addition to Washington and its European “vassal
states” (as Zbigniew Brzezinski called European NATO members),7 most
prominently Saudi Arabia, hardly a regime anyone would accuse of being a
paragon of democracy.
Another lead role against Damascus is being played by
Qatar, home to US military as well as the blatantly pro-NATO propaganda
channel Al-Jazeera. In addition, the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip
Erdoğan, is providing training and space to prepare armed mercenaries and
others to flow over the border into neighboring Syria.
An attempt by the Erdogan government to send a Turkish Phantom air force
fighter jet into Syrian airspace flying provocatively low, apparently in
order to incite a “Gulf of Tonkin” incident to fan flames of NATO
intervention a la Libya two weeks ago, fell flat when Turkey's general staff
issued a statement saying:
"No traces of explosives or flammable products
were found on the debris recovered from the sea."
Erdogan was forced to
shift his line to cover face, no longer using the phrase, "shot down by
Syria" and instead referring to,
"our plane that Syria claimed to have
NATO has established a command and control center in
Iskenderun, in Turkey’s Hatay province, near the Syrian border months ago to
organize, train and arm the “anything but” Free Syrian Army.9
Administration, not wanting a full Syria war before US elections in
November, reportedly also told Erdogan to “cool it” for now.
Most westerners who take their knowledge of world affairs religiously from
the pages of the Washington Post or CNN or BBC are convinced the Syrian mess
is a clear cut case of “good guys” (the so-named Syrian National Council and
its rag-tag makeshift “Free Syrian Army”) versus the “bad guys” (the
Al-Assad dictatorship with its armed forces).
For more than a year western
media has run footage, some as noted, not even filmed in Syria, claiming
that innocent, unarmed opposition civilian pro-democracy populations are
being massacred ruthlessly in a one-sided butchery by the regime.
They never explain how it would serve Assad to alienate his strongest asset
to survival, namely the support of a majority of Syrians against what he has
accurately named foreign intervention into sovereign Syrian affairs.
Indeed numerous eyewitness journalist accounts from inside Turkey and Syria
including RT have alleged that from the beginning the “peaceful democratic
opposition” had secretly been provided with arms and training, often inside
camps across on the Turkish side.
Professor Ibrahim Alloush from Zaytouneh
University in Jordan told RT,
“Weaponry is being smuggled into Syria in large quantities from all over the
It is pretty clear that the rebels have been receiving arms from
abroad and Syrian television has been showing almost daily shipments of arms
being smuggled into Syria via Lebanon, Turkey and other border crossings.
Since the rebels are being supported by the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]
and by NATO it is safe to assume that they are getting their financing and
weaponry from the same sources that are offering them political cover and
financial backing.” 10
One veteran Turkish journalist whom this author interviewed in Ankara in
April, just back from an extensive tour of Syria, gave his eyewitness
account of the capture of a small band of “opposition” fighters.
journalist, fluent in Arabic, was astonished as he witnessed the head of the
rebels demand to know why their military captors spoke Arabic.
that was their native language, the rebel leader blurted out,
should speak Hebrew, you’re with the Israeli Army aren’t you?”
In short, the mercenaries had been blitz-trained across the border in
Turkey, given Kalashnikovs and a fistful of dollars and told they were
making a jihad against the Israeli Army.
They did not even know who they
were fighting. In other instances, mercenaries recruited from Afghanistan
and elsewhere and financed by Saudi money, including alleged members of Al
Qaeda, make up the “democratic opposition” to the established regime of
Even the ultimate US establishment newspaper, The New York Times, has been
forced to admit that the CIA has been pouring arms into the Syrian
“C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in
southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters
across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government,
according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.
including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some
antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way
of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood
and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.” 11
The International Committee for the Red Cross now classifies the conflict as
a civil war.12
Peter Wallensteen, a leading peace researcher at the
University of Uppsala and the director of the Uppsala Conflict Data Program,
"It's increasingly an internationalized civil war, and as we
know from previous history, the more internationalized, the longer the
conflict will be…there is a civil war, but now so many weapons are coming
from the outside, that there is actually an internationalized civil war."
According to Mary Ellen O'Connell, a respected legal scholar and professor
of law and international dispute resolution at the University of Notre Dame,
"The International Committee of the Red Cross statement means that the Assad
regime is facing an organized armed opposition engaging in military force,
and it has the legal right to respond in kind.
The Syrian military will have
more authority to kill persons based on their being part of the armed
opposition than when Assad was restricted to using force under peacetime
The rebel opposition groups claim it means just the opposite.
While the US State Department makes pious pronouncements of their supporting
“democracy” and demanding Al-Assad step down and recognize the dubious and
factionalized opposition of the Syrian National Council, an exile group
dominated by the
Muslim Brotherhood, Russia is working skillfully on the
diplomatic front to weaken the Western march to war.
Putin’s shrewd diplomacy
Now, no sooner did Vladimir Putin again take the office as Russia’s
President on May 7 than he embarked on a complex series of diplomatic
missions to defuse or hopefully derail Washington’s Syrian game plan.
July 16 Putin hosted a Moscow visit of Kofi Annan where he repeated Moscow’s
unflinching support for the Annan Peace Plan. 15
Because of the considerable media distortions it’s useful to read the actual
text of the six-point Annan plan:
commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political
process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian
people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when
invited to do so by the Envoy;
commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United
Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all
parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country.
To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements
towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centers, and begin
pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers.
As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should
work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence
in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision
Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all
relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a
sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with
an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;
ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected
by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and
implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time
and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including
at local level;
intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons,
including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved
in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate
channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained,
immediately begin organizing access to such locations and through
appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for
information, access or release regarding such persons;
ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a
non-discriminatory visa policy for them;
respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully
as legally guaranteed.15
There is no demand in the Annan Plan for Bashar al-Assad to step down before
any ceasefire, contrary to what Hillary Clinton repeats after insisting the
US also backs the Annan Plan.
The Annan Plan calls for a diplomatic
solution. The US clearly does not want a diplomatic solution. It wants
regime change and evidently widening war across the Shi’ite-Sunni divide of
the Muslim world.
Moscow and Beijing just as clearly want to draw the line and prevent chaos
spreading from Syria. On July 19, again Russia and China, both veto members
at the UN Security Council blocked a new US-backed resolution on Syria they
insisted was designed to open the door to a Libya-like military intervention
The resolution had been drafted by British Foreign Secretary
William Hague, and would have opened the door for a Chapter 7 resolution of
the UN Security Council on Syria. Chapter 7 allows the 15-member council to
authorize actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military
The Hague resolution demanded that the Syrian government in
10 days pull out all its heavy weapons from urban areas and return troops to
barracks. Nothing was said about disarming the “Free Syrian Army.”
Washington claimed it would only be interested in
economic or diplomatic
sanctions, not military. Of course...
Putin has more than a little leverage to use with Turkish Prime Minister
Erdogan was in Moscow just prior to the July 19 UN Security Council
vote to discuss Syria with Putin.18 Turkey is the second-largest buyer of
Russian natural gas, some 80% of its natural gas coming from Russia’s
state-controlled Gazprom. 19
Turkey’s entire “energy hub” strategy of
playing a key role in gas flows from Eurasia, the Middle east to Europe
depends on gas from Russia and Iran. One year ago a $10 billion pipeline
deal was signed between Iran, Iraq and Syria for a natural gas pipeline from
Iran’s huge South Pars field to Iraq, Syria and on to Turkey, eventually
connecting to Europe.20
Putin had also gone to Tel Aviv on June 21 to meet with Israeli Prime
Minister Bibi Netanyahu.21
Russian influence inside Israel is not minor.
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union some six million Russians, mostly
Jews, have emigrated to Israel over the past two decades. Ultimately Israel
cannot be overjoyed at the prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood-run Syrian
opposition coming to power in neighboring Syria.
While few details emerged
of the content of the talks, it is clear that Putin delivered the message
“destroyed, disoriented and broken up Syria would not help Israel.
Syria has the second, most well-organized Muslim Brotherhood organization
after Egypt,” according to former Indian Ambassador K. Gajendra Singh.22
Then on July 11, Putin and Lavrov invited Abdel Basset Sayda, the new head
of the US-backed opposition organization, Syrian National Council, to Moscow
Sayda, who is from the Kurdish Syrian minority and has lived
twenty years in Swedish exile, is a curious figure as opposition spokesman,
from the Kurd minority in Syria, a man with little or no active political
experience, clearly chosen mainly to hide the dominant Muslim Brotherhood
profile of the SNC.
Russia reportedly made it clear to Sayda they would
continue to block any attempts to oust Assad and that the opposition need
seriously adhere to the Annan Plan and negotiate a settlement. Sayda for his
part made clear no negotiations until Assad is gone, a stance that is
feeding the bloodshed.23
There are signs in all the bloodshed and escalation of violence that Putin
reached some quiet deal as well with Obama to keep war off the table until
Obama is past the November elections.
Russia recently agreed to reopen
supply lines for US military supplies in Afghanistan at the same time
Washington orchestrated an “apology” for the recent killings of civilians in
Pakistan with its drones.24
Veteran roving journalist Pepe Escobar recently summed up the situation in
all its grim reality:
“Turkey will keep offering the logistical base for mercenaries coming from
"liberated" Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon.
The House of Saud will
keep coming up with the cash to weaponize them. And Washington, London and
Paris will keep fine-tuning the tactics in what remains the long, simmering
foreplay for a NATO attack on Damascus.
Even though the armed Syrian
opposition does not control anything remotely significant inside Syria,
expect the mercenaries reportedly weaponized by the House of Saud and Qatar
to become even more ruthless.
Expect the not-exactly-Free Syrian Army to
keep mounting operations for months, if not years. A key point is whether
enough supply lines will remain in place - if not from Jordan, certainly
from Turkey and Lebanon.” 24
1 David Harding, How a meeting of the Muslim Brotherhood offers new hope to
Syria's rebels, The Daily Mail, 18 July 2012, accessed in
2 Gajendra Singh, Syria: An update on internal, regional and international
standoff, 18 July, 2012, email to author.
3 Raphael Satter, UK journalist Syria rebels led me into death trap,
Associated Press, June 8, 2012, accessed in
4 Richard Lightbown, Syria: Media Lies, Hidden Agendas and Strange
Alliances, Global Research, June 18, 2012, accessed in
5 Tom Parfitt, Russian ship with helicopters for Syrian regime sets sail
again, The Telegraph, 13 July, 2012.
6 F. William Engdahl, Washington is Playing a Deeper Game with China, Global
Research, June 11, 2009, accessed in
7 The vassal quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski: "...To put it in a terminology
that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand
imperatives of imperial (American-ed.) geostrategy are to prevent collusion
and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries
pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.", The
Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And It's Geostrategic Imperatives , 1997,
8 Adrian Blomfield, Syria: Turkey jet crash may have been accident, The
Telegraph, 12 July, 2012, accessed in
9 Pepe Escobar, Why Turkey won’t go to War with Syria, July 8, 2012,
accessed in http://www.voltairenet.org/Why-Turkey-won-t-go-to-war-with
10 RT, Syrian opposition getting 'daily shipments' of arms, 08 February,
2012, accessed in
11 Eric Schmitt, CIA Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition, The
New York Times, June 21, 2012, accessed in
12 Mariam Karouny and Erika Solomon , Syrian forces surround rebels fighting
in capital, Reuters, July 16 2012, accessed in
13 Victor Kotsev , Chaos in Syria overshadows rebels' hopes, Asia Times,
July 18, 2012, accessed in
15 AFP, Russia's Putin to meet Annan for Syria talks, 15 July 2012,
16 "Six-Point Proposal Presented to Syrian Authorities", UN Security
Council. 21 March 2012.
17 Voltaire Network, Russia, China veto UN resolution on Syria for third
time, 19 July 2012, accessed in
18 Rian.ru, Putin Meets Turkey’s Erdogan Ahead of UN Syria Vote, 19 July
2012 accessed in http://www.turkishweekly.net/print.asp?type=1&id=138726
19 F. William Engdahl, The Geopolitical Great Game: Turkey and Russia Moving
Closer, accessed in
20 Pepe Escobar, op. cit.
21 AFP, op. cit
22 K. Gajendra Singh, Will Putin’s Israel Visit Calm Middle East Tempest?,
June, 2012, accessed in
23 RT, Syrian National Council in Moscow for first-ever talks, RT.com, 11
July, 2012, accessed in
24 Pepe Escobar, op. cit.