Weekend Roundup: Putin’s Drawdown Is as Much About World Order as About Syria


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s surprise announcement this week of a withdrawal of some forces from Syria has put an end to the narrative that Russia was bound to be trapped in a Mideast quagmire. Whether in Ukraine or in Syria, it has become clear that Russia’s actions are as much about its role in the world order as about those countries.

Writing from Beirut, former MI6 agent Alastair Crooke puts it this way: “The common thread running through both conflicts (Ukraine and Syria) has been the Russian leadership’s overriding concern to deflect any Western or NATO dynamic towards confrontation with Russia. One of Putin’s main priorities in launching his ‘war’ on terrorism then, precisely has been to tease out some peer-to-peer American cooperation, as a prelude to ‘resetting’ the relationship between both powers.” Crooke continues: “That said, catalyzing a Syrian political process — in one form or another — is surely a subsidiary objective: Mr Putin, from the outset, has said that Russian military intervention had limited aims, but was designed to ‘create conditions for a political settlement.’”

Writing from Moscow, Fyodor Lukyanov argues that Putin’s intervention, and now pullback, in Syria has laid the groundwork for a genuine political settlement. “As we know from similar conflicts,” Lukyanov writes, “parties start to seriously think about negotiations when they realize that no military victory is available. By intervening in October, Moscow showed the opposition that it can’t expect to win this war. By pulling out forces partially in March, Russia sends the same signal to the regime: it can’t count on Russian military might to win complete military victory.”

Writing from Brussels, European parliamentarian and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt warns the West not to take Putin’s bait and thank him for pulling back after causing so much damage: “The biggest mistake we could make now would be to reward Russia for its destructive actions, by entering into a ‘constructive dialogue’ with the Kremlin over the refugee crisis or the situation in Ukraine, as some have suggested,” Verhofstadt writes. “This truly would be the topping on the cake for Putin.” World Reporter Nick Robins-Early assesses Putin’s aim in withdrawing from Syria and examines the role Russian air power has played in tipping the balance toward the Assad government.

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian conflict in the heyday of the Arab Spring. David Crane, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor, says it is now time to bring justice to the victims of atrocities in the Syrian civil war. Despite the carnage, Ameenah Sawwan writes that the hope for change born out of the cry for freedom and dignity in early protests five years ago remains high among the average Syrian citizens. Recalling the experience of the Arab Spring from Egypt to Morocco to Bahrain, Jana Jabbour similarly says that the 2011 uprisings gave Arab youth a reason to live that remains robust under the surface of repression. Writing from Turkey where she fled from Syria, Wafa Mustafa reflects on the ordeal of being a refugee and the day she lost her father, her country and her home. In an interview with The WorldPost, author and analyst Charles Lister talks about how Syria has become the center of the jihadist world.

In this week’s “Forgotten Fact,” World Reporter Charlotte Alfred and WorldPost Managing Editor Farah Mohamed report on the Syrian women fighting for their place at the U.N. Syrian peace talks after having been sidelined for years. Writing from Tunis, Ani Zonneveld describes the #ImamsForShe campaign, which aims to empower women to educate themselves about their rights in Islam.

Yet another bombing hit Ankara this week, prompting A.Kadir Yildirim to worry that we are witnessing the “Pakistanization of Turkey.” “Increasingly,” he writes “Turkey is being viewed ‘as part of the Middle East rather than an island of security outside of it.’” WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones reports on suspicions in Turkey over an early warning by the U.S. embassy on a possible attack. Fréderike Geerdink argues that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could break the “spiral of violence” by negotiating with the Kurds. Patrick Kingsley, author of “The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis,” talks to The WorldPost about the EU-Turkey plan to stem migration. He fears that closing one route to Europe through the Balkans will only create pressures for new routes. Here we profile the anti-immigrant “Alternative for Germany” party that is changing the center of political gravity in Germany. Willa Frej reports on the refugees stranded at the Greek border as other countries close their frontiers. We also take a look at life inside the horrid Idomeni transit camp.

Social turmoil these days is not limited to the Mideast. Huge demonstrations demanding the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff rocked the country this week as she attempted to appoint former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as her new chief of staff — in part to unify her own party and in part to provide Lula with immunity from prosecution as he himself is being investigated on corruption charges. Writing from Brazil, Diego Iraheta quips, “Dilma has fallen. And Brazil’s new president, for the third time, is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The question is for how long.” This photo of a prosperous young couple joining in the anti-Dilma protests in Copacabana — with their dog on a leash and their nanny behind pushing the kids in a stroller — went viral in Brazil because of the social divisions it captured.

As President Obama prepares to make an historic visit to Cuba next week, Ted Piccone and Richard Feinberg suggest that the real agenda is not to make change now, but lay the groundwork for a post-Castro Cuba.

Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz analyzes how the new generation of young voters in both Europe and the U.S. is forsaking the old politics as they face lesser prospects than their parents. He writes: “These three realities — social injustice on an unprecedented scale, massive inequities and a loss of trust in elites — define our political moment, and rightly so.” Economist Ed Dolan explains why both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are wrong to attack free trade. Howard Fineman worries about just how well the politics of fear is playing across the West. “Western democracies are now facing uprisings of Trumpism,” he writes, “spurred by the toxic political combination of waves of immigrants and refugees; job losses and flat wages; and terrorist threats from the likes of al Qaeda and the self-described Islamic State.” Writing from Paris, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy puts Donald Trump in the same category as Putin, the Le Pens and Berlusconi as dangerous vulgarizers of contemporary politics.

As the annual National People’s Congress session convened in Beijing this week to discuss China’s new Five Year Plan, Peter Cai ponders how reliable official statistics are at indicating the health of the Chinese economy. He suggests we follow the metric laid out by Premier Li Keqiang when he said “the government was prepared to accept lower growth if the following conditions were met: strong employment growth, stable consumer prices, wage increases and better environmental protection.” Also on China, Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden examine Africa’s role in the country’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

In our photo series on everyday entrepreneurs, we meet a woman in Vietnam who is trying to give ailing newborns a fighting chance to survive. Fusion this week looks at how robots are being used to clean up the Fukushima nuclear site in Japan, where radiation levels are too high for human beings to enter. Finally, our Singularity series imagines cars of the future that may be 3-D-printed and have spherical tires.


EDITORS: Nathan Gardels, Co-Founder and Executive Advisor to the Berggruen Institute, is the Editor-in-Chief of The WorldPost. Kathleen Miles is the Executive Editor of The WorldPost. Farah Mohamed is the Managing Editor of The WorldPost. Alex Gardels and Peter Mellgard are the Associate Editors of The WorldPost. Katie Nelson is the National Editor at the Huffington Post, overseeing The WorldPost and HuffPost’s editorial coverage. Eline Gordts is HuffPost’s Senior World Editor. Charlotte Alfred and Nick Robins-Early are World Reporters. Rowaida Abdelaziz is Social Media Editor.

CORRESPONDENTS: Sophia Jones in Istanbul

EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Arianna Huffington, Eric Schmidt (Google Inc.), Pierre Omidyar (First Look Media) Juan Luis Cebrian (El Pais/PRISA), Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute/TIME-CNN), John Elkann (Corriere della Sera, La Stampa), Wadah Khanfar (Al Jazeera), Dileep Padgaonkar (Times of India) and Yoichi Funabashi (Asahi Shimbun).


CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.

The Asia Society and its ChinaFile, edited by Orville Schell, is our primary partner on Asia coverage. Eric X. Li and the Chunqiu Institute/Fudan University in Shanghai and Guancha.cn also provide first person voices from China. We also draw on the content of China Digital Times. Seung-yoon Lee is The WorldPost link in South Korea.

Jared Cohen of Google Ideas provides regular commentary from young thinkers, leaders and activists around the globe. Bruce Mau provides regular columns from MassiveChangeNetwork.com on the “whole mind” way of thinking. Patrick Soon-Shiong is Contributing Editor for Health and Medicine.

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