President Putin used well the first opportunity in ten years to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. His delivery on September 28, 2015 was calm, balanced and authoritative. It was also firm, but conciliatory. He gave a global vision from the viewpoint of Russia’s national interests. One felt the whole of Russia was behind him. But he made it clear that Russia’s interests are in sync with those of humanity.
Putin rightly focused attention on the most pressing issue: the quest of the USA for global hegemony in the Middle East has opened Pandora's Box. Destroying the largest secular states in the Middle East--Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Syria--they created not democracy they promised, but new hotbeds of terror and quasi-religious fanaticism.
In this chaos there emerged the so-called "Islamic State", which undermines stability not only in the Middle East and Africa, but also, through waves of refugees, in Europe as well. Now the US and its Western allies recognize their inability to cope with the chaos they bred and unleashed. “By creating a foothold in Syria and Iraq, the “Islamic State” is seeking domination in the Islamic world and not only there," Putin said, noting that "The situation is more than dangerous."
He stressed that ISIL is being led by renegades whose ideology and practice have little to do with Islam and therefore it is only the so-called Islamic state. Hence Putin's proposal to create an UN-led broad coalition, including the United States, its Western allies, as well as China and Russia. But “the key actors in such a coalition should be Muslim countries”, for ISIL “not only directly threatens them, but also, by its bloody crimes, defiles the world's great religions – Islam”.
Debunking the accusation that he aims at reviving Soviet empire, Putin in fact condemned Soviet-era foreign policy. His irony was unmistakable when he suggested that now the USA imitate the USSR in the efforts to “export of social experiments, attempts to spur changes in different countries, based on ideology”, forgetting that such attempts “often led to tragic consequences, producing not progress, but degradation”.
Though the US and its allies use a different rhetoric they repeat the mistakes of Soviet leaders, said Putin, for they “seem not to learn from (Soviet) mistakes, but repeat them. Though now they export the so-called "democratic" revolution”.
Putin acknowledged that Russia’s concern with ISIL is pressing because some recruits from Russia fight in their ranks and because Russia receives refugees from the Middle East and is subjected to terrorist attacks by forces, ideologically close to ISIL.
As to the events in Ukraine, Putin put them in the light of the US desire for world hegemony. Be preserving and expanding NATO, the United States “forced on post-Soviet countries a false choice: the West or the East? Sooner or later, such a confrontational logic was to turn into a serious geopolitical crisis. It happened in Ukraine, where dissatisfaction of many people with the existing government was used by outside forces to instigate an armed coup. As a result, civil war broke out. "
Putin reiterated that the civil war in the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine can be stopped only when the Minsk Agreements of February 12, 2015 are “fully and conscientiously followed” by both sides. Only then will Ukraine “develop as a civilized state, as a key link in the construction of a common space of security and economic cooperation in Europe and Eurasia”. Thus Putin opened the wider perspective of Ukraine becoming a bridge between the EU and Eurasian Customs Union (ECU), which certainly makes sense from economic point of view.
While assessing the global situation from Russia’s point of view, he paid tribute to the UN and the majority of its members whose voices are often ignored because Western media covers events from the perspective of the powerful. "We all know that after the Cold War ... there emerged but one center of world dominance. Those who are at the top of the pyramid are tempted to think that since they are so strong and exceptional, they must know best what to do. Consequently they ignore the United Nations."
The conciliatory tone of Putin's speech echoed that of UN Secretary General. At the opening of the General Assembly, Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council’s permanent members to put aside their ideological differences, stop the bombing of Yemen and strive for the establishment of peace in Syria by forming of a broad coalition including the key states of Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey.
Putin’s call for a compromise in order to restore and maintain peace and civility in the world agrees with the objectives of RAGA. The US and Russia need to put aside what divides us, and look for something that brings us together. Right now, it is the task of eliminating ISIL as the main troublemaker in the Middle East. Hopefully, Putin’s UN speech may inaugurate a more productive, not confrontational, stage in US-Russia relations overall.
Dr. Vladislav Krasnov, former professor of Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, now heads Russia & America Good Will Association (www.raga.org) in Washington DC.
© W. Krasnow, September 2015
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