Russia and China are on a diplomatic reconciliation campaign. China brings Saudi Arabia and Iran together in a friendship deal, and the lingering sound of worldwide applause hangs in the geopolitical air. Russia, ensnared in the quagmire of its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, a disaster of its own making, wants some attention for solving Middle East problems. To that end, the Kremlin welcomed the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, to Moscow on Tuesday, March 14, for discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The official purpose of the meeting was to discuss trade and humanitarian initiatives.
Discussions with foreign leaders on subjects other than Ukraine are undoubtedly welcomed within the Kremlin. For Assad, still reeling from the devastating February 6 earthquake that killed an estimated 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria, travel to Russia is a relief. Putting the visit in context, the Associated Press explained:
“Russia is a main backer of Assad and has a broad presence in Syria, where a 12-year uprising-turned-civil war has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population. Moscow has played a pivotal role in fighting back armed opposition groups trying to topple Assad’s government through its military support and has also aggressively backed Damascus against opponents at the United Nations.”
Additionally, having foreign visitors to the Kremlin has the effect of presenting Putin as something other than the global pariah he has shown himself to be. He wants the world to know that Moscow still has clout somewhere. “During the meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Syrian president thanked Mr. Putin personally for his country’s aid efforts in Syria after the 7.4-magnitude quake… Assad also said the bilateral ministerial meetings held in Moscow over the past few days were ‘some of the best’ that the two nations have had in years,” according to The National. The Syrian leader also expressed strong support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Another result from the meeting might seem a bit opaque, but when it comes to the Middle East, little is easily divined. Some observers of the Russia-Syria relationship report the meeting helped to form a bridge to take advantage of the recent Saudi Arabia and Iran agreement. Assad wants to read from the same script as Russia and Iran.
Russia and China Save the World?
And that relationship brings China into the discussion. The Beijing diplomatic entree into the Middle East free-for-all by brokering the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran could loop in Syria. If nothing else, the multi-nation affiliations establish Russia and China as diplomatic heavyweights in the geopolitical ring. Unfortunately, rapprochement among the new Middle East players excludes the US. As a result, the rest of the world is paying attention. “Beijing has seized the opportunity to stick a finger in Washington’s eye by showcasing its diplomatic prowess in the Middle East, where America’s role as a security provider is under question,” reporter Shi Jiangtao explained in the South China Morning Post.
Beijing’s actual role in bringing together Iran and Saudi Arabia was prompted more by the US’s failure to be a reliable partner to the Saudis. “The Biden administration came in and immediately began criticizing and attacking our ally. They were feeling vulnerable and unsupported by the United States militarily,” the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) told The Daily Mail. In addition, the Biden foreign policy team has restricted how weapons supplied to the Saudi Kingdom may be used, causing another rift between the US and the Kingdom.
The question making the rounds among foreign policy wonks does not bode well for the US. Is Beijing willing, or can it play a pivotal role in negotiating peace between Ukraine and Russia? China’s President Xi Jinping will have a video conference call with Kyiv’s leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky, the week of March 20 after a visit to the Kremlin, according to The Wall Street Journal. It will be the first such conversation since the Russian attack on Ukraine. The Zelensky-Xi phone call will not resolve the Russian aggression on Ukraine. However, combined with the Xi peace plan submitted last month, the Chinese Communist Party comes across as positive force for good among nations.
The result of the Russia and China outreach campaign is Putin and Xi come off as purveyors of peace in a dangerous world. None of this helps show the Biden administration as a worthy international political partner.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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