Republicans vs. Russia: What’s the next chapter?

Russia stands strong on Syria, even despite the ongoing development of relations with some Middle Eastern powers

Maria Dubovikova

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The Democrats have been defeated by the Republicans in the mid-term elections and have captured total control of both Chambers of the U.S. Congress, making a lame duck of President Obama. But what is worrisome about these changes in the U.S. political layout are their consequences for U.S. foreign policy and thereafter for the whole world.

It’s evident, that the U.S. will become much more involved abroad, and first of all in the Middle East. Obama was criticized for his policy on the fight against ISIS and due to the manner in which the U.S. leads the coalition. He was criticized for apparently playing footsie with Iran, he was also criticized for the worsening of relations with Israel. The indecisiveness of Obama during the first half of his second term risks turning into excessive decisiveness under the pressure of the Republicans.

The Syrian government and its forces have to prepare themselves for the strengthening of the rebels too

Maria Dubovikova

On the November 5, Ron Paul, former Republican congressman, commented on the issue via Twitter, saying that “Republican control of the Senate [means] expanded neocon wars in Syria and Iraq. Boots on the ground are coming.” On Friday, after the informal lunch with the leaders of the victorious Republican party, President Barak Obama approved sending up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq. This will double the number of the U.S. force deployed on the Iraqi ground. The main goal, according to the America’s officials, is to retrain the Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS forces, as well as to train three Kurdish Peshmerga brigades. Rear Admiral John Kirby was quoted by the media as saying: “It is being done now because the Iraqis have reached, they have demonstrated, the willingness and the skills to go after ISIS, so they have reached the point, where they need additional help and guidance.” However, it remains unclear what role these mostly “training mission” forces will play as the years of U.S. military advisers and troops in Iraq apparently did not contribute much to the forming of efficient Iraqi forces. It seems most likely that sooner or later the U.S. forces will be involved in a full scale land battle.

Democrats’ failure

Moreover, willingness to decrease the consequences of the Democrat’s failure for the remainder of his presidency, it seems, that Obama is trying to forestall the possible demands and pressure from the Republican side. So on Wednesday he declared his intention to engage Congress over a new Authorization to use military force against ISIS, under the pretext that the U.S. military forces deserve the U.S.’s political unified support.

The victory of the Republicans in the midterm elections was rather expected so the interview given to the Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper by the Syrian minister of foreign affairs is very remarkable. In the interview, he expressed deep concerns over the possible U.S. attacks on Syrian government forces during their anti-ISIS raids. Moreover he revealed that Syria expects Russia to deliver its once promised S-300 and some other advanced weaponry to strengthen Syria’s army positions and to secure Damascus against any possible violation of the commitments. Furthermore, the Syrian government and its forces have to prepare themselves for the strengthening of the rebels too, as in all probability the Republicans will intensify support of the so-called moderates willing to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

At the same time, during the Saturday meeting of Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Beijing the two counterparts discussed the anti-ISIS international coalition as well as the settlement of the Syrian conflict. Despite the discord over the juridical bases of the coalition and the lack of international law legitimacy, as well as on the possibility and necessity of talking to the Syrian government on the issue of the counter terrorism operation, this meeting could be perceived in a positive way. But the change of power in Congress decreases the importance of the meeting. These days the State Department still acts following the previously taken policy. The Republican influence will be experienced shortly but later. And there is a high probability that they will shut the door for discussion over these issues.

Toughening voice of the U.S.

Moreover, the positions of the most Republicans and specially of those like McCain, who certainly will influence the toughening voice of the U.S., are even more polarized with Russian ones and apparently have even less friendly sentiments towards Russia and could have little political will for an effective dialogue.

At the same time, Russia stands strong on Syria, even despite the ongoing development of relations with some Middle Eastern powers that are anti-Assad and which supported the rebels during the these years of the Syrian civil war. And it will hardly change its position. The meetings of the Russia-Syria intergovernmental commission on trade, economic and scientific research took place in this vein between October 22-24 in Sochi, seeking ways to strengthen the cooperation.

Following the latest trends in the global agenda and a change of layouts, we are entering the most complicated period of the modern period of history. The Middle East will face the strengthening involvement in its fate, as well as U.S. boots back on the ground of Iraq. What is more is that if the worst apprehensions over the toughening stance of the U.S. become reality, Syria will become a true geopolitical battlefield of the U.S. and Russia. The changes would also dramatically affect the nuclear talks with Iran as well and some other tough issues of the dramatically complex regional agenda.

If the Russian side delivers the weaponry Damascus demands, this will freeze and worsen already strained relations between the U.S. and Russia as well as Russia’s ties with the West, at least over the Middle East agenda. What is more is that this would change the balance of power in the region, that would lead to unpredictable consequences. Any U.S. violation of commitments would have the same unpredictable consequences. It would be much better if what is going on in the region now - the international coalition’s jurisdiction and the limits of permissible - would be sanctioned and controlled by the United Nations. This would help the world avoid the thoughtless steps of the international players and their inevitable consequences.


Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

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