The Trilateral Israel-US-Russia Meeting: Motives and Ramifications
INSS Insight No. 1178, June 23, 2019
The national security advisers of the United States, Russia, and Israel are due to meet in Israel in late June. This marks an achievement for Israel’s policy, which has succeeded in navigating between Moscow and Washington’s interests and in being a party to the superpowers’ dialogue on the future of Syria and on Iranian intervention in that country. For the United States and Russia, this is another step in their efforts to create closer ties and to focus the dialogue between them on matters that are in dispute. This article aims to clear at least some of the fog clouding the meeting.The agenda of this meeting, whose format is unusual, has yet to be made public. International media reports suggest that it aims to be a discussion of an arrangement on Syria. This framework would entail discussion of Iran’s continued intervention in that country. But it can be assumed that, given the improved discourse between Russia and the United States, the meeting will have inherent diplomatic value in and of itself, and that it will also address global issues on the powers’ respective agendas.The intention (on the part of the United States and Israel, at least) seems to be to discuss the development of a shared policy on Syria and Iran. As for Syria specifically, it can be assumed that they will try to promote an arrangement on the basis of the UN-led talks in Geneva, contrary to the talks held in Astana in which Russia, Iran, and Turkey alone took part. Here, the aim would be advancing political reform in Syria. Russia, for its part, would demand US agreement to President Bashar al-Assad’s official role and to his candidacy in the coming presidential election in Syria. Given the worsening crisis between Iran and the United States in the Gulf region, the United States expects Russia to support its policy on the Iranian issue, especially for imposing sanctions aimed at returning Iran to negotiations designed to improve the nuclear deal and for bringing about a reduction in Iranian influence – in Syria specifically, and in the Middle East in general.It should not be ruled out that the pivot in Russia’s Middle East policy, expressed in its rapprochement and close cooperation with Israel after a discernibly cold spell, as well as in the rising tension with both Iran and the Assad regime, are mainly due to its bid to grow closer to the United States. The meeting slated to take place in Israel is apparently another manifestation of this.The growing rapprochement between Washington and Moscow is evident recently by regular contacts between senior officials from both sides. A meeting between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin is also slated on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Tokyo. Nevertheless, it is still too early to assess the success of this process, inter alia because of domestic pressure being applied on each president to eschew gestures that might improve relations. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK
What to Expect from the U.S.-Russia Meeting in Jerusalem
Washington Institute, June 12, 2019
This month, Jerusalem will host a meeting between U.S. national security advisor John Bolton, Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev, and Israeli national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly suggested the idea when he visited President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this February, later noting, “I proposed to Trump and Putin to form a U.S.-Russia-Israel trilateral committee…to discuss the security situation in the Middle East and both of them agreed. This is unprecedented.” Similarly, the White House stated that the meeting’s purpose is “to discuss regional security issues.”Analysts expect the talks to focus on Syria and Iran. Kremlin-controlled press outlets such as RIA Novosti have made wild claims that Washington and Israel intend to recognize dictator Bashar al-Assad’s legitimacy and lift sanctions in exchange for Moscow deterring Iranian influence in Syria. Although U.S. envoy James Jeffrey has reportedly denied that such concessions are on the table, Putin is likely looking for a deal along those lines. Even if that questionable goal falls through, he no doubt believes that his legitimacy—and therefore his regional leverage—will be enhanced simply by attending the meeting.RUSSIA’S UNTRUSTWORTHY RECORD IN SYRIAThe string of broken ceasefires that have occurred on Russia’s watch thus far instill little confidence that Moscow will honor new agreements in Syria. According to American officials involved in past discussions toward a cessation of hostilities, the Russians are unwilling and unable to make Assad comply on that front.During a November 2015 meeting in New York, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry reached an agreement on principles previously put forth in Vienna, including a cessation of hostilities and a timetable for political transition in Syria. A month later, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2254 based on the Vienna principles. The Assad regime promptly violated all terms. When Damascus and Moscow finally implemented a ceasefire in February 2016, it collapsed within four months.Similarly, after Russia and rebel forces in south Syria agreed to a ceasefire in July 2018, Moscow promised that Iran would withdraw its forces and proxies at least eighty-five kilometers away from Israel’s border. Yet many Iran-allied militia elements remained near the frontier, reportedly switching into Syrian military uniforms in an apparent effort to avoid Israeli airstrikes. Moreover, the agreement was unclear on whether any Iranian “advisors” would be compelled to leave. The resultant withdrawal was superficial at best and ultimately failed to diminish Iran’s presence—though it succeeded in making Moscow look as if it had tried.If American officials have sometimes been naive about Russia’s utility in getting Iran out of Syria, certain Israeli officials may have bought into the illusion completely. Some privately claim that Putin has a “soft spot” for Israel, noting that they felt reassured when Moscow gave Israeli forces freedom of action to strike Iran-linked targets inside Syria. Even after the southern ceasefire failed to meet any of Israel’s security interests, Netanyahu announced to his cabinet this March, “President Putin and I also agreed on a common goal—the withdrawal of foreign forces that arrived in Syria after the outbreak of the civil war.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK
______________________________________________________Russia’s Questionable S-400 Turkey Deal
Seth J. Frentzman
The National Interest, Apr. 29, 2019
Russia and Turkey are “jointly working on creating promising aircraft and helicopters,” the press office of Russian state arms seller Rosoboronexport said Monday. It comes as Turkey continues to say it will take delivery of the Russian S-400 air-defense system, which has put the United States and Turkey on a collision course that could harm the historic alliance of Ankara and Washington. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently spoke to President Donald Trump, has offered to create a working group to discuss the S-400 crisis, according to a statement by the Turkish Presidency. Turkey is seen as a potential winner in all this, by exercising an independent foreign policy it can get the United States and Russia to compete for its affections, which will potentially allow Ankara to drive a hard bargain for what it wants in Syria or in energy deals.It is not widely understood that while Russia seemed to have outplayed the United States in the S-400 deal, that Russia may now be tied to Turkey in a way that reduces Moscow’s area of maneuver. An article at Russia’s TASS state news agency in late April said Turkey will continue to procure the S-400 and also America’s Patriot surface-to-air missile system. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned that Turkey might lose out on its role in the F-35 program if it takes the S-400. So, Turkey’s foreign minister says that Ankara could approach another country to get new warplanes. Which country? Moscow.This makes it appear as if Russia and Turkey will become deeply entwined military allies. Turkey might risk its role in NATO. The news about joint development of helicopters and aircraft comes in this context. For Russia, this could be a major inroad into a NATO ally, potentially doing to the United States and Europe what Russia thinks the West did to Russia in the Caucuses, Ukraine and Baltic states.However, successfully creating an inroad will not be so simple. Turkey and Russia used to be on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war. Turkey was the main backer of the Syrian opposition rebels and Russia was the Syrian regime’s central ally. In fact, a Turkey even shot down a Russian plane in November 2015. Then, in December 2016, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated by an off-duty Turkish police officer. But Turkey and Russia were already in talks for the S-400 by late 2016. In September 2017 Russia confirmed that Turkey had signed a contract for it. The air-defense system is now supposed to be delivered in two batches in June and July.
Turkey and Russia ended up as allies—as opposed to adversaries—through a long process that was accelerated by Turkey’s anger over America’s decision to work with the Syrian Democratic Forces against Islamic State in Syria. Turkey viewed the SDF as linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). In 2015 a PKK ceasefire ended in Turkey and Ankara and the PKK engaged in a harsh conflict in 2015–2016, setting the stage for Turkey’s perspective that the SDF should not be allowed to gain too much power in Syria. Turkey has also launched airstrikes in northern Iraq against the PKK. The United States was disillusioned with Turkey’s policies in Syria and didn’t see how Turkey or the Syrian rebels would defeat the Islamic State, which the United States saw as a priority after 2014. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
The Expanding China-Russia Defense Partnership
Hudson Institute, May 13, 2019
Over the last three decades, China and Russia have developed an increasingly close military relationship built on arms sales, joint military exercises, and other mutual defense ties. Moscow has supported Beijing’s military ambitions by providing sophisticated weapons platforms to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). These weapons transfers have bolstered China’s air defense, anti-ship, and other critical capabilities in significant ways. In particular, they have enhanced the PLA’s capability to threaten foreign navies and air forces in the waters and airspace near China. Most recently, the S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries and Su-35 fighter planes that Russia sold to the PLA could target drones, jets and ballistic missiles over much of the western Pacific. Meanwhile, the joint drills and other Sino-Russian military engagements have allowed the PLA to learn valuable skills from the more combat-experienced Russian armed forces.
What could the future of China and Russia’s defense partnership entail? Both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin seek a closer defense partnership, which could come in the form of more extensive exercises or defense industrial collaboration. Furthermore, Chinese-Russian military action may come in the form of a combined effort to suppress an Islamist insurgency in a Central Asian country, using a sectoral approach of concurrent but separate military operations.
Yet the Sino-Russian security relationship is limited in important ways. It is noteworthy that Beijing and Moscow do not fully endorse each other’s recent military moves to advance their contested territorial claims. Beijing has not overtly endorsed Moscow’s annexation of Crimea or creation of separation regimes on Georgian territory, while China’s expansive claims in the South and East China Seas have not received formal Russian diplomatic support. Both countries are concerned by the risk of becoming entangled in each other’s military conflicts with third parties.
The United States and its allies must nonetheless plan for future military contingencies in which China or Russia could exploit U.S. conflicts with one of them to achieve gains at U.S. expense. In the case of a NATO-Russian conflict in Europe, U.S. allies in Asia will need to prepare for Chinese opportunistic aggression, while the converse would prove true regarding Russia during major Sino-U.S. confrontations in Asia. The Russian government has already displayed its proclivity—in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria—to employ military force to achieve strategic targets of opportunity. The Chinese government could well make similar calculations in the future. … [To read the full report, click the following LINK – Ed.]