Syria and Afghanistan: Battleground for a New Cold War? Saddam Hussein

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Since the demise of the Soviet Union, memoirs of the Cold War have faded: but a new cold war has emerged with full zest following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

Relations between Russia – the then Soviet Union – and the United States were determined by a complex interplay of ideological, political, and economic aspects, which expedited shifts between reluctant cooperation and often hostile superpower rivalry since the inception of the cold war era.

The divergence in the political/economic systems i.e capitalism and socialism of the two countries often barred them from the realization of a mutual understanding on significant policy issues and even, as in the case of the Cuban missile crisis, brought them to the brink of war.

Vladimir Putin, after consolidating his power at home, worked on a vision to set Russia at the center of global politics and power games once again. Putin’s approach of stern foreign policy, seeking to place Russia as a competitor if not a peer of the United States, saw him enter the Middle East and oppose a regime change in Syria.

The East – a large and diverse region, rich with conflict and putting pressure in several ways on Washington’s position – furnished a temptive situation for an aspiring power with limited resources. Russia chose to seek out a role in all of the Middle East matters, eager to pursue complex policies and interact with everyone.

Therefore, Russia became part of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran on the nuclear deal, but it had all along pursued a gentle slant than the United States and France towards Iran.

Russia’s, along with Chinese participation in the negotiations facilitated Iran in grabbing a better deal. When U.S. relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia were tensed by the Arab Spring and its follow-ups, Russia was swift to propose diplomatic substitutions and armaments deals.

Russia conducts a regular dialogue with Israel and has exploited Netanyahu’s quest to reduce his dependence on Washington, but it is also a steady supporter of the Palestinian cause and wasted no time in inviting Hamas’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, to Moscow when he won the Palestinian elections in 2006.

Kremlin also interceded Afghan conundrum to be under the spotlight of international chess board. It is affirming its interests in the Afghan peace process. By hosting a series of peace talks, Russia is expanding its diplomatic involvement in the country; making war-torn Afghanistan an area of US – Russian strife once again.

The US dropped “Mother of All Bombs,” on an ISIS bastion in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province. It is the first time the bomb, developed in the initial days of the Iraq war, and has been used in battle.

The U.S. strike came a day before Russia hosted an international conference on Afghanistan. Representatives from Pakistan, Iran, India, China and several other former Soviet central Asian countries participated, which some experts anticipated  may pave the way for peace in Afghanistan despite the absence of the U.S.

A presence in Afghanistan not only gives Moscow an opportunity to assist counter the ISIS danger, but also serves as additional point of negotiation for Kremlin as it works to culminate its broader logjam with the West.

Just as its military support of President Bashar al Assad’s regime gives it a stake in Syria’s political evolution, Russia’s association with the Taliban gives it an analogous voice in Afghanistan. Neither has absconded Washington’s notice. Its decision to launch airstrikes in Syria and strategies to accrue the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan verify that.

Crimea, a Ukrainian region which sided with Russia due to its ethno-linguistic affiliation has become a bone of contention between two superpowers since 2014. Apparently Crimea voted to be part of Russia in a referendum, but the international community refer to it as a ‘referendum held at a gun-point’.

Why is Crimea so important for Moscow?  The reason is Sevastopol city which can provide Kremlin the only warm water sea outlet. It will give Russian access to the Mediterranean and also to the Atlantic Ocean, which makes it as a key international security interest.

The strategic importance of Ukraine is that it lies in between Russia and Europe, literally as well as figuratively. US would certainly not like the Russian advances towards its allies i.e NATO in the Europe.

Moscow’s gambits in areas of profound U.S. interest have counterparts in America’s engrossment in tactical theatres for Russia. U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration have displayed robust backing for Ukraine in its ongoing struggle with Russian-backed separatists.

Though at present there is a deteriorating trajectory of bilateral relations, the United States and Russia have mutual spheres of interest where they will need to find ways to cooperate, otherwise global peace and security is at stake.


Saddam Hussein is a Research Fellow at Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad, while pursuing his MPhil. in Public Policy from School of Public Policy, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Islamabad.

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