Instead of grappling with global crises, the G20 summit taking place in Hangzhou, China, is revealed as having been turned into a platform for a further plunge in the cold war revived afresh between the United States and Russia.
Obstacles and sticking points summed up the umpteenth bid on Sunday, Sept. 4, by US Secretary of State John Kerry to agree with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a way forward in the Syrian conflict, or even on a short humanitarian truce.
President Barack Obama blamed President Vladimir Putin for refusing to bring all his clout to bear on Assad to force him to accept US truce terms, especially a halt in Syrian aerial bombardment.
The profound rift between the American and Russian leaders was sharply marked, but it also arose from the deep divisions among the cooks who are stirring the Syrian conflict.
Much has been made of the hopelessly fragmented anti-Assad rebel movement into some 1,000 militias, and the divisions in the Iranian and Hizballah camp backing the Syrian dictator. But very little is heard about the controversies among the bodies in charge of US policy for Syria, namely, the White House, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.
This internal dissent, which is strongly reflected on the battlefield, is one reason why Obama vetoed any further cooperation with Russia in the Syrian conflict – and not just the “gaps of trust” remaining between the two powers.
Even less attention has focused on the internal debates in the Kremlin among the presidential office, the foreign ministry and the generals on the handling of Russia’s formidable military intervention in the conflict.
This week, the two leaders took widely diverse steps to ratchet up the “cold war” between them.
Putin had his defense minister launch the large-scale 10-day Caucasus 2016 military exercise — from Crimea on the Ukraine border – involving Russia's Black Sea and Caspian fleets and 12,000 troops.
This step was taken against the background of the strong interface sustained in recent years between the Ukrainian and Syrian crises in times of high US-Russia friction.
Moscow’s military intervention in Syria, now exactly a year old, was bracketed from the word go with Russian domination of the Crimea and the Black Sea. For every military or political falling-out with Washington over Syria, a crisis developed over Ukraine.
Therefore, the commander of the Caucasus 2016 exercise is none other than Col.-Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, who up until July was commander of Russian forces in Syria.
The Obama administration has wielded its own second-strike capability against Moscow.
US intelligence agencies have let it be known that they are now officially investigating allegations that Russia has embarked on a broad operation, involving cyber tools and hacking, to sow public distrust in the US presidential election and its political institutions.
The probe is led by Director of Intelligence James R. Clapper.
The administration has thus gone way beyond the accusations thrown out in late July by the Democratic Party campaign and some Republican leaders that Russian intelligence was meddling in the campaign by hacking Democratic Party emails for disclosures to embarrass their candidate Hillary Clinton. There were also subsequent discoveries of interference in the computers of two state polling centers.
Taking all these events together, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the “cold war” between Russia and the United States had stepped out from Ukraine to Syria and landed squarely in the middle of the US presidential election campaign.
Whether or not Russian intelligence was put to work to achieve this, Putin appears to be content with the outcome.
The second part of this debkafile exclusive analysis is to be published here on Wednesday Sept. 7.