Sep 8, 2013

Putin: lonely, scared and confused

Talk to real master of situation, not his shadow

Before the G-20 Summit Putin assured the world in the official interview  that he has not ruled out backing a U.S.-led military operation in Syria if the Kremlin gets concrete proof than an alleged chemical attack on civilians was committed by Bashar Assad’s regime. The sincerity of Putin’s intention was obvious – he bases all his prestige on the Soviet Victory in the WWII over atrocious regime of Hitler, but now he finds himself and Russia on the side of the “Syrian Hitler”, using gas against his own people.  Putin understands that despite his huge propaganda efforts, he will not be able to manipulate the public opinion for long. It seems suddenly he started to realize that this time he risks remaining on the wrong side of history.
For the West the Kremlins condition is quite easy to satisfy, as there are enough proofs that only the Assad forces could conduct the chemical attack.  Next day – one day before the Summit - Putin unexpectedly produced a U-turn, publicly called John Kerry a “liar” using an obvious manipulation.  Putin’s sudden change of heart is the main intrigue of the G-20 Summit and deserves some attention.
Failed Mega Deal
What happened in between? Day before the Summit Putin had a pompous meeting with the Chinese leader where Russia expected to sign a mega-deal for gas supply to China.  Then top Chinese official stated that any military actions in Middle East would lead to the oil prices growth and because of this the China opposes to the strike.  However, much advertised  “mega-deal”, expected by Russia, has failed as Chinese continue to insist on a half-price of the usual price Russia gets in Europe.
Moreover, a couple days earlier China signed a mega-deal with gas rich Turkmenistan, more than doubling the gas exports to China. Day after the Summit China struck a $30 billion deal with Kazakhstan including purchase of the $5 billion stake in the giant Kashagan oilfield.  
Therefore, China is not in hurry and can quietly wait, when Russia get totally isolated by the West and be ready for a slow and quiet technical takeover by China. China doesn’t want to invest in Russia, but agrees to finance some big industrial project as the Far East with a precondition that this enterprises will be in its ownership and workers will be only from China. As Russian economy is sinking despite the high oil and gas prices Putin a bit earlier or later will have to accept the Chinese proposition. This would mean a “forever concession” by China of the Russia’s Far East.
Russia’s Political Bluffing
This makes Russia extremely nervous and dependent on China. It gradually increases its influence in the region, which Russia considers its “legitimate sphere of interests” and leaves Russia out in the cold.  However, Russia does not dare to complain.  Instead, it pretends having a very special relation and a strong alliance with China as opposing to the failing relation with the West. 
China calls Russia a “major country” and lets it fight its revisionist fights with the West, but does not view Russia as an equal partner.  On the Chinese President visit’s  web page  there are mostly  pictures of  Chinese President with American President Obama, but there is no any picture with Russian President Putin.  This shows where the real China’s priorities are.  
Putin’s dependence on China explains Putin’s U-turn.  Trying hard to please Chinese President, he found not exactly elegant way to reverse his recent declaration on possible joining the international effort against Bashar Assad by calling John Kerry a “liar” and returned to his usual slogans about Syria.
Upgrading Role for China
Putin’s miserable position, which he masks with the massive PR efforts, promoting his image and ideas at the West, makes him useless as a negotiator on Syria.  The real master of the situation is China. If the leader of this country really thinks that the oil price growth is the only objection to the common action in Syria the negotiations should be conducted with him, not with the politically impotent Putin.  In this case, Chinese and the Western position on Syria coincide. Russia on the contrary is objectively interested in maintaining the civil war in Syria as a precondition for a high oil price, on which Russian economy depends.
The U.S. should convince China that the sooner the situation in Syria is resolved the sooner the oil prices would go down.  This could become a first international action, where China can show its political maturity and responsibility for the World. China could like this  as it is follows already the U.S. example offering assistance to the different countries. Cash rich China can show a real leadership helping freed from the Assad’s regime Syria after the conflict is over.