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The Russians are coming

Daoud Kuttab

Published: Updated:

Shortly after British parliament voted to oppose a strike on Syria, an American newspaper reported the decision of the House of Commons in an unusual way. In a spoof of the independence cry, the Daily News ran a front-page headline twice repeating the phrase: “The British are not coming.”

While it has become clear that the British are not coming to America’s aid in the military theatre, the global political movement is witnessing the arrival of an old, and at the same time a new, player.

Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, appear to have made a grand entry onto the international political scene. The handling of the Syrian file, the G20 conference and the Russian-U.S. relations all added up to a shrewd and brilliant performance. Russia has shown it respects its allies, uses all its assets and privileges and knows how to translate its powers into accomplishments.

The Russian Federation, which was what remained of the old Soviet Union, appeared to be a weak player on the international political landscape and a weak partner, compared to giants such as the U.S., Germany, France or China.

In fact, Russia was not officially admitted to the group of major industrial countries. It was allowed to attend as an observer in the G7 meeting, which later was called G7+1, and finally became a full member of the newly declared G8 group.

Not new to Arab affairs

Russia is, of course, not new to international and Middle Eastern politics. But while the Russian steadfastness brought it praise in Arab circles, many are warning against getting carried away by the newfound strength of the Russians in international circles.

While Russia vetoed only six resolutions since 1991, the Americans used their veto power 79 times

Daoud Kuttab

The year 2013 is not the 1970s or 80s, and we are not going to see a new bipolar world. Russia may have done very well in handling the Syrian file (and U.S. President Barack Obama handled it badly), but this is not to say that Russians will be flexing their muscles too much in world politics, although they are certain to make a splash next time they meet the U.S. and other world leaders.

The Syrian crisis, which is still far from being solved, has forced all international parties to be cognisant of a number of important issues that were ignored during the past decade of total U.S. domination.

Overreaching is one matter the international community is clearly not comfortable with, even (and in fact specifically) when it comes from a superpower like the United States.

Trying to carry out aggressive military acts without a mandate from the U.N., or any other relevant international body, is clearly not tolerated in today’s world.

Uncomfortable American attitude

Flexing military muscles for dubious reasons such as “America’s credibility” or to “punish” a particular country does not impress anyone anymore. Countries need to come up with a more credible justification before committing to carrying out acts of aggression against any country, no matter how abhorrent that country and its leadership might be.

Taking the U.N. and its Security Council for granted has also been put to the test. When American officials talk about Russia or China taking the “Syrian people hostage” by threatening to use the veto rings hollow when the international voting record of the five members is checked out.

While the Russian Federation vetoed only six resolutions since 1991, the Americans used their veto power 79 times (40 of those in regard to Middle East issues, in favour of Israel).

The relative success of the Russian Federation, however, should not be exaggerated. In military, political and more importantly financial terms, Moscow is dwarfed by the U.S. and its Western allies.

The Russians’ steadfastness and political creativity raised their country’s profile in the world generally and in the Middle East specifically. After an embarrassing loss in Libya, the Russians bounced back and forced the U.S. to rethink its current world domination.

If the Syrian crisis has taught the world anything, it is that international affairs are a team sport that requires high performance and unity of purpose in order to produce the desired results.

America and Russia, as well as other major countries, must realise their own size and power, and act in unison, rather than in competition when trying to solve world problems, which are aplenty.

This article was first published in The Jordan Times on Sept. 12, 2013.

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Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street. You can read his blogs on DaoudKuttab.com and find him on Twitter @DaoudKuttab.

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