Escobar: The Valdai Meeting
The Valdai Club, a group of intellectuals and influencers in Russia, gathered to discuss West Asia's current and future developments.
At Russia's Valdai Club meeting - the east's answer to Davos - intellectuals and influencers gathered to frame West Asia's current and future developments...
The 12th 'Middle East Conference' at the Valdai Club in Moscow offered a more than welcome cornucopia of views on interconnected troubles and tribulations affecting the region.
First, a word about terminology:
of Valdai's guests took the trouble to stress. This is not the 'Middle East' – a reductionist, Orientalist notion devised by old colonials: at
We insist that the region be accurately described as West Asia.
The official Valdai report has mapped some of the region's trials, tribulations.
The Future of the Polycentric World: The Middle East and The Future
However, the intellectual and political power of those present can also provide valuable insights. These are some of the key strands that participants highlighted in relation to regional developments, both current and future.
Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, set the scene by stating that the Kremlin policy encourages formation of an "inclusive regional security program." This is exactly what the Americans did not discuss with Russia in December 2021. It was then applied to Europe, the post-Soviet area. It was a proxy conflict.
Kayhan Barzegar, Islamic Azad University of Iran, qualified two important strategic developments affecting West Asia. This was a possible retreat by the US and a message to allies in the region: 'You can't count on our security guarantees.
Every vector – from rivalry in the South Caucasus to the Israeli normalization with the Persian Gulf – is subordinated to this logic, notes Barzegar, with quite a few Arab actors finally understanding that there now exists a margin of maneuver to choose between the western or the non-western bloc.
Barzegar does not identify Iran-Russia ties as a strategic alliance, but rather a geopolitical, economic bloc based on technology and regional supply chains – a 'new algorithm in politics' – ranging from weapons deals to nuclear and energy cooperation, driven by Moscow's revived southern and eastward orientations. And as far as Iran-western relations go, Barzegar still believes the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, is not dead. A least not yet.
"Nobody knows these rules."
Egyptian Ramzy Ramzy, until 2019 the UN Deputy Special Envoy for Syria, considers the reactivation of relations between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE with Syria as the most important realignment underway in the region. Not to mention prospects for a Damascus-Ankara reconciliation. 'Why is this happening? Because of the regional security system's dissatisfaction with the present,' Ramzy explains.
Yet even if the US may be drifting away, 'neither Russia nor China are willing to take up a leadership role,' he says. At the same time, Syria 'cannot be allowed to fall prey to outside interventions. The earthquake at least accelerated these rapprochements.'
Bouthaina Shahban, a special adviser to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, is an extraordinary woman. She is fiery and honest. Her presence at Valdai wasn't just electric. She emphasized how "since the US war on Vietnam, we have lost what we saw as free media." The free press is dead. The free press has died. "Gleichzeitig hat at the same time At the same moment Da bei Bei all Gleichzeitig us parallel des simultaneously in A lot them da de fact
Shaaban gave the best definition of the "rules-based international organization": "Nobody knows what these are and what this is."
She reiterated that, in the post-globalization period which is ushering into regional blocs the usual west meddlers prefer not to use state actors - such as in Syria or Iran -'mandating the locals to do whatever the US would want to do'
A crucial example is the US al-Tanf military base that occupies sovereign Syrian territory on two critical borders. Shaaban calls the establishment of this base as 'strategic, for the US to prevent regional cooperation, at the Iraq, Jordan, and Syria crossroads.' Washington knows full well what it is doing: unhampered trade and transportation at the Syria-Iraq border is a major lifeline for the Syrian economy.
Reminding everyone once again that 'all political issues are connected to Palestine,' Shaaban also offered a healthy dose of gloomy realism: 'The eastern bloc has not been able to match the western narrative.'
A ‘double-layered proxy war'
Cagri Erhan, rector of Altinbas University in Turkey, offered a quite handy definition of a Hegemon: the one who controls the lingua franca, the currency, the legal setting, and the trade routes.
Erhan describes the current west hegemonic status of play as a 'double-layered proxy warfare' against Russia and China. The US has referred to the Russians as an "open enemy" - a major threat. Proxy war is still the rule when it comes West Asia. Erhan says, "So the US are not retreating." Washington will continue to consider the use of the region'strategically in opposition to emerging powers'
What about the foreign policy priorities for key North African and West Asian actors?
Akram Kharief is an Algerian journalist and editor of the online magazine.
According to him, Russia should be closer to Algeria. He also warned against the American portrayal of Moscow as an 'imperial threat to Africa'.
Professor Hasan Unal of Maltepe University in Turkiye made it quite clear how Ankara finally 'got rid of its Middle East [West Asian] entanglements,' when it was previously 'turning against everybody.'
The region's mid-sized power Turkiye and Iran are now leading the way. Unal points out that 'Turkiye' and 'the US' don't agree on any issue of importance to Ankara. This explains why Turkish-Russian ties have grown stronger and their mutual interest to find'multi-faceted solutions for the region's problems.
For one, Russia is actively mediating Turkiye-Syria rapprochement. Unal confirmed that the Syrian and Turkish foreign ministers will soon meet in person – in Moscow – which will represent the highest-ranking direct engagement between the two nations since the onset of the Syrian war. And that will pave the way for a tripartite summit between Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It is important to note that the major regional reconciliations are held again in or with the participation Moscow, which can be rightfully described as
of the 21st century multipolar world.
When it comes to Cyprus, Unal notes how 'Russia would not be interested in a unified state that would be EU and NATO territory.' So it's time for 'creative ideas: as Turkey is changing its Syria policy, Russia should change its Cyprus policy.'
Dr. Gong Jiong, a Chinese student at the University of International Business and Economics in Israel, invented a catchy neologism called the "coalition of those unwilling" - it describes how "almost the entire Global South is not supporting sanctions against Russia," and certainly not any of the West Asian players.
Gong pointed out that China-Russian trade is growing fast, partly due to western sanctions. However, the Americans should think twice about China's sanctions. Russia-China trade amounts to $200 billion annually, while US-China commerce is staggering at $700 billion per year.
The pressure on the 'neutrality camp' won't relent anyway. What is needed by the world's 'silent majority,' as Gong defines it, is 'an alliance.' He describes the 12-point Chinese peace plan for Ukraine as 'a set of principles' – Beijing's base for serious negotiations: 'This is the first step.'
There will be no new Yalta
What the Valdai debates made crystal clear, once again, is how Russia is the only actor capable of approaching every player across West Asia, and be listened to carefully and respectfully.
It was left to Anwar Abdul-Hadi, director of the political department of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the latter's official envoy to Damascus, to arguably sum up what led to the current global geopolitical predicament: 'A new Yalta or a new world war? They [the west] chose war.'
And still, as new geopolitical and geoeconomic fault lines keep emerging, it is as though West Asia is anticipating something 'big' coming ahead. That feeling was palpable in the air at Valdai.
To paraphrase Yeats, and updating him to the young, turbulent 21st century, 'what rough beast, its hour come out at last, slouches towards the cradle [of civilization] to be born?