Moscow Takes a Stand on Arab Revolts – Opposite Washington

The day before President Barack Obama' Middle East speech of May 19, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a pointed warning to Washington. Despite its unrelated content, this warning was shown by its timing to be deeply relevant to the Middle East.
Failure to agree on a new missile defense shield, said the Russian president, could result in his government pulling out of the new nuclear disarmament treaty and usher in a new Cold War with the West.
He told reporters that the United States’ decision to push ahead with the European shield despite Russia’s objections will force Moscow to take responsive measures – "something that we (the Russians) would very much rather not do. We would then be talking about developing the offensive potential of our nuclear capabilities. It would be a scenario that throws us back into the Cold War era,” Medvedev said.
On the face of it, this threat underscored the warning coming from Viktor Zavarzin, chairman of the State Duma’s defense committee on May 4 that the US-Romanian deal would have a negative impact on inter-European relations and undermine the existing balance of forces and interests. He issued this warning the day after Romania announced a US missile interceptor system would be deployed at a disused Soviet airbase on its territory.

Moscow adopts anti-US forces in the Mid East, Persian Gulf and N. Africa

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Moscow stress these warnings are only part of the picture of rising Russian-US tensions. The Kremlin has embarked on several steps to tell the Americans that President Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may have kept quiet for the six months since Arab unrest spilled over from the Tunisian revolt of December 2010. But now Russia is taking a stand on the Arab Revolt.
Moscow has already assumed active championship of anti-American and anti-Western forces in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and North Africa, with offers to supply funding and weapons on demand.
Until recently, Moscow was held back from intervening in the evolving Arab uprisings by two factors which are disclosed here:
First, Russian leaders and intelligence services were taken by surprise by the sudden upsurge of Arab popular unrest and its rapid spread and undecided how to react.
The discovery that the rulers targeted for ousters in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, were not friends of Moscow but allies of Washington gave Moscow pause.
Second, after a while, as they watched the Tahrir Square protesters toppling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February, Russian leaders decided that Washington and US intelligence were the moving force behind the popular masses on the march, with the aim of transforming the old Arab regimes into a new set of rulers and political systems.

Saudi walkout from alliance with the US – a good omen for Moscow

In the first stages, the Russians were not unhappy to see these autocrats go and so continued to sit on the fence. But since mid-March, three developments persuaded Moscow to change course and take a hand in the unfolding power transitions:
1. Saudi King Abdullah’s decision on March 14 to send Saudi forces into Bahrain to put down the revolt against the ruling Al Khalifa royal family and his deepening rift with Obama administration (followed closely from our earlier issues up until this week). Unlike the Russian take on the first stages of the Arab Revolt, Moscow perceived this rift to be a crack in America's monopoly on influence in the Arab world which could be usefully exploited for moving in and capturing the positions slipping out of America's grasp.
The Russians were not fleet-footed enough to exploit one of Riyadh's related steps. Prime Minister Putin gave Russian intelligence and its military industry captains a sharp dressing-down for failing to snare the Saudis as clients for their missiles and letting China get in first.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 489 of April 15: Saudis Buy Advanced Nuclear-Capable Missiles in China)
2. The war in Libya. Muammar Qaddafi’s endurance against a US-backed military offensive subsequently handed over to NATO command is seen by Putin and Medvedev as marking a decline in the strategic standing of the US and North Atlantic Alliance – especially Britain and France – in the Middle East.
(See the separate item on the state of play in the Libyan war).

Moscow cashes in on NATO's failure to get Qaddafi

Capitalizing on NATO's failure to oust or kill Qaddafi, Russia became the only world power to invite an official representative from Tripoli for a visit. On Tuesday, May 17 Mohammed Ahmed al Sharif, General Secretary of the World Islamic Call Society, the Libya-based group founded by Col. Qaddafi, duly arrived in Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov advised the guest that the Libyan leadership should "explicitly embrace and begin the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions (1973) in full." Lavrov was implying that Washington, London and Paris were equally bound to stick to the Security Council resolution, whose provisions did not include killing the Libyan ruler, and not just do as they pleased in Libya.
3. The spread of the Arab Revolt to Syria in April. Here, for the first time, Russia saw its military and strategic interests in jeopardy. For three years, since the end of 2008, the Russians have been building the Russian Navy's Mediterranean and Black Sea fleet headquarters at the Syrian port of Latakia. Not for a moment do they contemplate letting a democratic regime rise in Damascus that might force them to abandon this highly-prized facility.

Cozying up to Assad and Palestinian Fatah and Hamas

So when Washington finally targeted Syrian President Bashar Assad for personal sanctions this week, Medvedev retorted that Assad must be given a chance to honor his promises of reform and warned against foreign interference in the country.
On the quiet, Moscow began preparing a large shipment of advanced anti-ship Yakhont cruise missiles for Syria, the delivery of which would greatly boost Assad's standing in the Syrian army.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Moscow report that the Russians are also about to invite to Moscow delegations from Fatah and Hamas following the promises of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to use Moscow as the venue for their power-sharing negotiations.
According to our intelligence and military sources, Moscow staged the arrest, interrogation and expulsion of Air Force Col. Vadim Leiderman, the Israeli military attaché in Moscow, as a signpost to the Kremlin's pro-Arab intentions and interests in the coming future.
In its pursuit of Arab opinion, Moscow is not averse to sacrificing its ties with Israel – as ever.

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