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Syria and Ukraine: U.S.-Russian battlegrounds

It is a typical rhetoric of rivalry of the Cold War that prevailed the entire world during the 1950s, 60s, 70s and late 80s but still in less degree

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

That Syria and Ukraine turning into East-West “battlegrounds” are among the undisputable facts of politics nowadays, with internal and external incidents incorporated into the two countries’ dilemmas echoing back the “rusty” Cold War power struggles for influence between Moscow and Washington.

Here in Syria, there is a ferocious military confrontations between the pro-Russian Syrian regime and those forces fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah, Iraq’s Kata’ib Hizballah and Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas (Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigades), Iran’s elite Quds force and the Iranian-backed organization of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and the pro-West Free Syrian Army.

In fact, the state of political polarization in Syria between the pro-Russia and pro-U.S. forces has led to ideological Sunni and Shiite extremes and was the direct factor behind the emergence of radical Islamist groups, including the newly formed Islamic Front’s affiliate Ahrar al Sham Islamic Movement, Jabhat al-Nusra and, oddly enough, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The extremes have led Syria’s more than two-and-a-half-year conflict being described at large as between the pro-Western Sunni fighters and the pro-Eastern Shiite militants.

Syria and Ukraine are the last East-West battlegrounds that marked the resurrection of a new Cold War era between the U.S. and Russia

Raed Omari

For the radical Sunni fighters in Syria, Russia is still perceived as the embodiment of the Soviet Socialist Republic against which their U.S.-backed leaders and Mujahideen predecessors fought in Afghanistan.

There in Ukraine, there is a fierce standoff between pro-Western and pro-Russian elements inside the Ukrainian society and government with the manifestation of the Cold War between Russia and the U.S. being an attempt from the former to keep the former Soviet republic within its sovereignty as lying at the hear of its national security and an endeavor from the latter to push Ukraine into the EU’s embrace away from the grip of the rival Russians.

The government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych decision to drop plans to sign a major trade and political accord with the European Union, under Moscow’s pressure, and the public demonstrations that erupted following the abrupt decision is an inseparable component of the “resumed” Cold War between the U.S. and Russia and a continuation of the West-East decades-long ideological struggle. That is the case in brief.

Rivalities not likely to escalate

Narratives of rivalry and enmity between the U.S. and Russia over Syria and Ukraine are still and unlikely to escalate that much to leveling or nearing their previous rhetoric of competition on Vietnam, Cuba North Korea–South Korea, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Nicaragua.

There is in the two Titan’s official rhetoric on Syria and Ukraine a great deal of distress and dismay but still expressed in the form of “coy” threats delivered through diplomatic channels. The Russians charged that the peaceful demonstrations in Ukraine were ignited by Western intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA and the M16.

Whether Ukraine’s peaceful uprising was an intelligence plotting or a popular activity, George Friedman of the U.S. security think tank Strategic Forecasting Inc (Stratfor) said that “there is no question that American and European money poured into Ukraine.”

Recently, Washington has maintained a hard-edged stance on Ukraine, denouncing with “disgust” a police crackdown on peaceful rallies, while a top US senator was seen as hailing demonstrators in Kiev’s Maidan Square.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has reportedly voicing Washington’s “deep concern,” during a telephone call with President Yanukovych while the State Department said it was even weighing possible sanctions.

During a meeting with Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk and in an address to the angry demonstrators, U.S. outspoken Senator John McCain has also been reported as voicing support for protesters camping out for weeks in the capital, saying “ Ukraine will make Europe better and Europe will make Ukraine better.”

Many observers saw in McCain’s move an attempt to anger Moscow for what it sees as Western meddling in its backyard.

In counter remarks against the U.S.’ annoying rhetoric on Ukraine, Russia has recently lashed out at the U.S. and its allies on the U.N. Security Council over who is to blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria this year.

Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council that the shocking Aug. 21 attack on Damascus’s suberb of Ghouta that led to Syria agreeing to give up its chemical stockpile was “staged” and a “large-scale provocation,” comparing it to the “manipulation of public opinion” that led up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

This is a typical rhetoric of rivalry of the Cold War that prevailed the entire world during the 1950s, 60s, 70s and late 80s.

However, the decrease in the level of the historical Russian-American enmity had to do with the fall of the Soviet Union and the accompanying collapse of socialism and the rise of other world powers, including the EU, China and Japan.

Influential Presidents

In fact, Assad's regime and also President Yanukovych have played major roles in placing their countries within the “resurrected” U.S.-Russia antagonism with the inevitable outcomes be more instability to their crisis-hit countries. Strangely enough, the two presidents have deliberately chosen to turn their countries into battlegrounds for the U.S. and Russia at the time many countries have replaced their one-sided allegiance to either the West or the East with a “basket” of alliances.

But inasmuch as Ukraine for Russia means gas supply, national security and a tool to press the U.S. and Western Europe, Iran, Hezbollah and Israel’s security, and also gas provision are America’s stakes in Syria. In other words, it is not Ukraine or Syria that matters most to the two superpowers but other grand issues to resolve through the two crisis-hit countries.

So far, Syria and Ukraine are the last East-West battlegrounds that marked the resurrection of a new Cold War era between the U.S. and Russia.

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Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.