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Putin, Erdogan, Khamenei and the Revenge on History

Putin, Erdogan, Khamenei and the Revenge on History

Monday, 23 December, 2019 - 11:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

History injects poison into the veins of countries that accuse it of punishing them… Countries, which wars and events reduced their size and confined them in smaller maps that those they enjoyed during their golden age…

Bitterness haunts the spirit of countries that consider their new maps as prisons. Europeans learned the lesson from two world wars that destroyed the Old Continent. They decided to live in their new homes, and engaged in improving the conditions of their lives. There is no longer any place for foolish armies that intervene in the lands of others to dismantle them and occupy some of their parts. The alternative is competition with successful models, economic advancement and cultural glow.

The decline in the heft of history in Europe does not mean that it’s waning everywhere. Short sentences are sometimes sufficient to reveal appetites for great vendettas.

When a journalist asked President Vladimir Putin about a historical event that he wished he could change, he replied: “The collapse of Soviet Union”. On more than one occasion, Putin stressed that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” in the 20th century. He hinted that he had not forgotten the years after the fall, when “nobody listened to Moscow.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many believed that Russia would be busy for decades trying to heal its wounds after emerging from the Soviet rubble. The Russian Federation itself was under threat. The Red Army officers - attacked by poverty - sold their uniforms on the streets of Moscow for a few dollars. President Boris Yeltsin had to accept the advice and “guidance” of some ambassadors, in the hope of rallying aid to get his country out of the abyss in which it had fallen.

There are those who saw that Russia would resign from its past and would stifle the roar haunting its spirit to devote itself to restoring stability and adopting European prescriptions in the economy and politics.

It had not occurred to many that history was the chief troublemaker.

Putin, the son of the security establishment, witnessed the Russian fall, the “arrogance” of NATO and the heresy of the color revolutions. He started engineering a revenge project. He began to restore the prestige of the Kremlin in the “Russian continent” and subjugate the protective heads of the republics. After that, he went on to reinstate Russia’s stature in the world, reestablishing the image of the army that leans on a huge nuclear arsenal, and boasting that it possessed new “invincible” weapons.

He adopted active and quarrelsome diplomacy in crises, and waved the veto sword in the Security Council several times. He regained Crimea, destabilized Ukraine, and dealt an exceptional blow when the world woke up to Russian forces saving President Bashar al-Assad’s regime from falling at the hands of dissidents and mobile fighters classified as terrorists. The Putin regime went even further when it meddled with the US elections.

Today, on the soil of Syria, Putin is running a highly complex game that makes Russia a mandatory passage in any attempt to make peace in this country. The recent period showed that there is an Israeli, Iranian, Turkish and international need for the Russian thread that organizes the borders of wars and spheres of influence, without which the Syrian hell will be wide open. In the Syrian war, Putin managed to assign a role for Turkey. Erdogan’s army was allowed to enter to discipline the Kurds, but after Ankara recognized Assad’s survival.

In the beginning of the New Year, Putin will be a guest of Erdogan, after it was confirmed that Russian gas will flow to Turkey, and from there to regions in Europe. Erdogan, who emerged in the regional and international scene in 2003, three years after Putin’s rise, belongs to the category of the wounded by history. Flipping through the pages of the Ottoman Sultanate, he gets the impression that the Turkish map is a narrow dress and a severe punishment.

Initially, it was believed that he would promote a moderate and prosperous Islamic model, and that he would employ his country’s position as a bridge between Asia and Europe. Many believed Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s talk of “clearing the problems”, but Erdogan’s calculations seemed more complicated.

Erdogan saw in the “Arab Spring” an unprecedented golden opportunity. He opened the borders of his country to mobile fighters wishing to perform “jihad” in Syria, but the Tsar thwarted his dreams.

Erdogan is attached to the dream of the local big state. He has forces in Iraq, Syria, Qatar and Somalia, as well as in “Turkish Cyprus”. He dreamed of residing on the Sudanese island of Suakin, but the overthrow of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir aborted his plan. He is now preparing to send troops to Libya, confirming that he would study his “air, land and sea options.” His position threatens to fuel the prolonged conflict in Libya. His agreement with Fayez al-Sarraj’s government to define areas of maritime sovereignty opens the door for an aggravation of the oil and gas battle in the Mediterranean.

Erdogan boasted of revenge on history with an agreement that he said “overturns a situation imposed by the Treaty of Sèvres” that hammered the last nail in the coffin of the Ottoman Empire.

One sentence is sometimes enough to reveal appetites. The Minister of Turkish Relations with Turkic-speaking Counties considered that the “Turkish Republic, the successor to the great Ottoman Empire, should establish an alliance with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, even if this led to an acute confrontation with Russia.” Moscow quickly expressed its concern over these words.

The Iranian regime also rejects the idea of living in a natural country that respects the international law. The principle of “exporting the revolution” contained in the constitution confirms the regime’s view of the map as a punishment. The Revolutionary Guards generals’ boasting of the existence of “four Arab capitals in the Iranian orbit” has many meanings.

Khamenei’s determination at the beginning of the Syrian conflict that “Syria will remain as it was or never be for anyone” confirms his adherence to the idea of the local big state, just as his insistence on managing Baghdad from abroad.

History injects poison in the veins of countries that have not succeeded in taming their own demons. How difficult it is to stay near to the wounded, who fall into the grip of dreams of revenge. People who are cursed with the “geographic fate” must always have their seatbelt on.

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