Putin reassured after talks

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the “World Diamond Conference” in New Delhi, on Dec 11, 2014.

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the “World Diamond Conference” in New Delhi, on Dec 11, 2014.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the “World Diamond Conference” in New Delhi, on Dec 11, 2014.

By Saeed Naqvi 

Who knows, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have added non-alignment to his bow in the conduct of foreign affairs. He stood firm by the side of President Vladimir Putin at a time when Washington has all but given notice that it seeks regime change in Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov tweeted as much.

“We have a strategic partnership that is incomparable in content.” Having said this after his talks with Putin, what turn of phrase will Modi employ during President Barack Obama’s visit Jan 26? “Even if India’s options have increased, Russia remains our most important defence partner.”

Deals in oil exploration, infrastructure, nuclear energy, defence and diamond could exceed $100 billion. Russia, China, Japan and Vietnam have all measured up to Modi’s emphasis on economic diplomacy. Will the US too?

The end of the Cold War had rendered non-alignment redundant. But a new and imminent Cold War is creating room for India to reinvent it.

Among the earliest to warn the US against targeting Moscow was former British prime minister Tony Blair. His advise was to keep a steady focus on “radical Islam”. In fact, in this enterprise, the West needed Russian cooperation. The incentive for Russia to join this coalition were its own anxieties about Islamic radicalism in the Caucasus, Blair said.

Last month, the Jewish-Saudi lobby in Washington was worried that the Nov 24 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran might actually be met. Secretary of State John Kerry was advised to stay his hand in Vienna. A technically feasible agreement was thus politically postponed.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who had captured the world’s imagination after his impressive debut at the UN General Assembly in September, has today lashed out against “Muslim treachery”. There was also a hint of a Western conspiracy to damage Russian and Iranian economies by bringing down oil prices.

It is strange that Washington and Riyadh should be jointly interested in keeping the price of oil below $70 because plummeting price of US shale oil would hold back investments in this new sector. Indeed, shale production is expensive business and many new investors may simply shut shop. Does the Saudi move have multiple targets?

Shia Iran and Bashar al Assad’s backer, Russia, both make sense as plausible targets. But are they also up to something else? Would they like to delay US independence of West Asian oil by retarding the shale industry in, say, Texas?

Iran’s earlier moves in the West Asian chessboard were guided by extreme caution because the nuclear deal was in the balance. Freed of that consideration for the time being, Iran is taking a more robust interest in dealing with the ISIS threat to Iraq.

In June, Obama explained his delayed response to the ISIS in a strange way: ISIS pressure on Baghdad was essential to ease Nouri al-Maliki out of the Prime Ministership. Was ISIS a force at his command?

Even after the change of guards in Baghdad, differences persisted with the US approach. Complaint from Najaf was that the US was not holding ISIS back from its advance towards Baghdad. ISIS men had moved into Iraqi villages on motorcycles. After planting their flag, they had moved on, inviting air attacks on targets the US had no idea about. These, it turns out, were ISIS targets.

In early stages of their Afghan operations in 2001-02, the US had been likewise lured to attack bogus targets, sometimes becoming unintentional parties in local, tribal conflicts.

US military has been arguing that Iraqi Shia militias should not attack ISIS positions before the US Air Force is in possession of ground intelligence. But Baghdad believes militia operations against the Islamic State have created a sense of security in the Shia south.

The ISIS is, by most accounts, a double edged sword. It has Salafi and Baath mutated-to-Sunni forces focused on the Shia enemy. Its even more virile Muslim Brotherhood forces are a nightmare to the Saudis at the other end of the spectrum. If they are thwarted in their purposes in Iraq, they could well turn their attention elsewhere and appeal to the Brother’s extensive support base inside Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

This is complicating enough. To add to the West’s headaches, Putin has shut down the South Stream pipeline to Europe and has struck a bold new deal with Turkey.

Narendra Modi is in the midst of foreign affairs at a time when the world is in the grip of dizzying change.

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