Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Frightened Russia... Dreadful Russia

Frightened Russia... Dreadful Russia

Monday, 16 May, 2022 - 10:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

A diplomat asked me if I saw similarities between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. I was surprised and answered that both events took place in a different world and a different region. Russia is not Iraq. Vladimir Putin is not the same as Saddam Hussein. The decision-making mechanism in today’s Moscow is different from that of Saddam’s Baghdad.

Moreover, Russia is a nuclear state and a permanent member of the Security Council. It is true, however, that the Iraqi invasion threatened a vital commodity to the world, which is oil, while the Russian war in Ukraine is threatening two vital commodities, namely food and energy.

The diplomat saw that the most blatant similarity between the two events was the use of force to erase recognized international borders, annex territories and threaten the unity of an independent state. He noted that a foreign invasion was completely different from the change of borders due to developments, such as the Soviet, Yugoslav, or Sudanese explosion, or the split of Czechoslovakia due to the divorce between its two main components.

He said the United States launched two major wars in the current century in Afghanistan and Iraq, but did not attempt to change the map of the targeted countries.

Ukraine’s story is different. On the eve of the war, Putin considered the country a mere Russian product, meaning it does not have the legitimacy to exist as an independent state.

The diplomat affirmed that the world, which was afflicted by the atrocities of World War II, has proclaimed the inadmissibility of seizing the lands of others by force. Therefore, the international legitimacy does not recognize the outcome of the Israeli invasion policy.

According to the diplomat, the current war taking place on European soil will certainly lead to the birth of a new world.

The Europeans, led by President Emmanuel Macron, are aware of the danger of Russia’s humiliation in Ukraine. At the same time, they understand the risk of conceding that the force has the right to change maps and manipulate recognized international borders.

If they overlook Russia’s annexation of parts of Ukraine, how can they oppose what China considers its natural right to regain Taiwan?

It is difficult to compare the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In the past two decades, Putin has not shown recklessness in dealing with crises that concern his country, even if he has expressed some firmness. One can say that he revealed ingenuity that suggested that the Kremlin’s decision-making was based on information transmitted by embassies and security services.

It is difficult to believe that the president’s strength prevents his most prominent aides from expressing their opinion or concerns. At the same time, it is difficult to imagine that a seasoned diplomat like Sergei Lavrov did not expect the invasion of Ukraine to be met with a strong Western response.

I recalled what I heard a few weeks ago from an Iraqi, who had professional and close relations with Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi foreign minister. He told me that Aziz was opposed to the invasion of Kuwait and was aware of the dangers of annexing the country, but he could not influence the course of events. Will the world discover one day that Lavrov was in a situation similar to that of Tariq Aziz, of course taking into consideration the differences between eras and men?

I also remembered what I heard from Hazem Jawad, who led the Iraqi Baath to power in 1963. He said that during a Cabinet session headed by President Abdel Salam Aref, one of the ministers asked a question related to Kuwait. Aref overlooked that he was the president of the republic and made a telling statement: “Appoint me as commander of the Basra Brigade, and I will solve the Kuwaiti problem for you” - meaning he will invade it.

Decades later, Saddam Hussein would head to the Basra region to lead the Iraqi Republican Guard’s invasion of Kuwait. Decades after Ukraine’s independence, here we have Putin considering the country an artificial entity and sending his army into its territory.

I also heard from Iraqis that fear resides in the deep soul of their being. The country is geographically caught between two mighty neighbors.

All Iraqi rulers remember those pages of history that recount how the Safavids fought with the Ottomans on Iraqi land.

In recent history, the policies of some former imperial regimes show explicit tendencies to expand their territory at the expense of their weak contiguous circle. Some scenes are fresh. Iran bombs targets in Erbil. Turkey hunts down its enemies inside Iraq.

Russia’s history is also tumultuous. The country has been the invaded and the invader. For centuries, its borders have been restless and mobile. The country has many stories of conquests, although the books focus on Napoleon's adventure and Hitler's madness.

Iraq was afraid of Iran’s ability to hold cards within its territory. Some people say that Saddam’s fear of the “Wali al-Faqih” and “exporting the revolution” prompted him to launch a war against the Persian State, believing that if he did not initiate such an adventure in the border region, he would have to fight it later in the streets of Baghdad. Putin, in turn, accused Ukraine of plotting against him, so he launched a “preemptive” war.

Russia is rich in oil, gas and minerals. But it lives is grappling with its siege mentality and fears for it soul. Peter the Great’s attempt to import the factors of European progress did not dispel its permanent fear of the West. Thus, the Soviet Union built the Berlin Wall to fend off the winds of the Western model, but history uprooted the wall.

The West went too far in boasting of its victory. It moved the pawns of the NATO alliance towards Russia’s borders, which Putin considered a further humiliation of his country and an invasion threat under the guise of globalization and “color revolutions”. It was out of this deep fear and the Soviet rubble that Putin emerged.

In Berlin, the visiting journalist feels that the world has fallen into a vicious trap, as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine. The fearful Russia is difficult and exhausting and the dreadful Russia is alarming.

It is certain that the world, which is paying a heavy price today, will change with the beat of the developments in Ukraine. Countries are anxious and developments are frightening.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks