Iconoclast: Contrarian Musings on Global Affairs

Walk the Line: Russia as the New Chair of the UN Security Council

October 26, 2016

October 1st began what could be one of the more interesting Chairships of the United Nations Security Council, with Russia taking over and being charged with a rather delicate balancing act: between conducting the numerous affairs expected to be covered by any standard Chair of the UNSC and deftly handling the ‘special’ relationship with the United States that has recently become woefully deficient. Even more intriguing, some of the most vivid recent examples of that degrading relationship have been exhibited within the UNSC itself.


On the general business front, Russia will see issues dominating the Middle East and Africa at the top of the schedule:

·         developments in Syria;

·         settlements and their legality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;

·         implementation of resolution 1559 in Lebanon;

·         ongoing hostilities in Yemen;

·         problems within South Sudan;

·         activities of MINUSCA in the Central African Republic;

·         various political challenges occurring within the Democratic Republic of Congo;

·         activities of MINUSMA in Mali;

·         activities of UNAMID in Sudan (Darfur);

·         returning functionality of MINURSO in Western Sahara.


There will also be important and fascinating discussions during the first month with Russia as Chair that will consider women, peace, and security as well as a private briefing conducted by the International Court of Justice. Perhaps more directly relevant to Russia will be the debates it has put on the docket pushing UN cooperation with regional and sub-regional organizations. More specifically, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Commonwealth of Independent States will all receive what has been in the past rare attention at the highest UN level. It will be intriguing to see if Russia chairing the Security Council can enable greater impact and focus on these organizations that have in the past been quite important to Russian interests.


All of this regular business, however, pales in comparison to the intrigue and drama that will undoubtedly emerge when it comes to Russia interacting with the Permanent American Envoy to the UN, Samantha Power. She has always held relatively adversarial positions toward Russia and recently made major headlines when she accused Russia of engaging in disinformation campaigns in Syria and called Moscow actions within the country as “barbaric”.


Russia, never one to back down from a challenge, whether physical or verbal, responded rather forcefully through the personage of Maria Zakharova, the official spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some of the highlights of her comments were rich in both imagery and dismissiveness:


·         When Samantha Power says something, then one wants to cry out in fear for the future of the world, considering this future is subject to these kinds of minds.


·         The US special UN representative, not finding any other argument, compared Russia and Syria’s actions to being barbaric. I understand that she did this for the sake of imagery and in the absence of any facts. But even so, one has to know something about the history of the world:


1.      If we consider things in a historical context, then both the Celtic and Slavic tribes belonged to the barbarians. Therefore, Samantha Power is wrong to not identify with them.

  1. If we talk about historical parallels, then Samantha Power is not right for a second time, because a barbarian is he who does not belong to an empire. Let’s take into account that there is only one empire today and it is not Russia.

3.      From the point of view of imagery, Samantha Power is not right again, because there is nothing more barbaric that the world has seen in recent history than Washington’s deeds in Iraq and Libya.


·         There are two reasons why the Americans are turning the Security Council into “Samantha Barbara”:


1.      The first is that Washington cannot fulfill the obligations it took upon itself in separating terrorists from “moderates”.

  1. The second is that Washington needs to divert attention away from the investigation of its strikes on Deir ez-Zor.


·         Samantha…the more you talk, the less work there is for ‘Kremlin propaganda.’


Aside from the fact that this retort is gloriously forthright, given how banal and uninteresting most diplomatic discourse tends to be, it rips open the continuing divide between the United States and Russia and how likely this chasm is going to be more exposed and possibly widened by Russia chairing the UNSC.


At the heart of the current version of American-Russian animosity are the “competing interventions” in Syria. In its simplest form, America wants to intervene and replace Assad while Russia wants to intervene and keep Assad in place. The funny thing is that both countries actually agree on the fact that Assad is basically a horrible human being. For America, replacing tyrants in the Middle East has become something of a fun pet project (hello Hussein, hello Khaddafi, hello Mubarak, hello Saleh) and Assad fits this model quite well. For Russia, the horror of Islamic State[1] encroachment (which took over pieces of Syrian territory directly because of the state paralysis that occurred due to American support for rebel opposition groups) is emblematic of what is guaranteed to happen when you meddle in Arab autocracies and seek to replace them with…..to be determined. Indeed, it has always been the amorphous and ambiguous nature of rebel opposition to Assad that posed the biggest security threat and concern to the region according to Russian intelligence analysis.


Consequently, America has been deemed too cavalier with its diplomatic equivalent of “Anyone but Assad” and Russia has been the one to forcefully reply back “be careful what you wish for”. It was Russia more than any other country that made the global community finally ask questions about the actual composition of Syrian opposition groups: not just the fact that they suffered from horrific internal dissension, but that there were far too many radical Islamists mixed in liberally with so-called “moderate Arabs”. Because of the torturous hell that was the Chechen conflict, Russia has always been quick to prefer authoritarian stability over democratic instability when it comes to areas infected by such radicalism. This is especially so in the Middle East, which Russia considers close enough to be a near backyard and too close to its own southern flank.


And so here we sit with Russia as the new Chair of the Security Council. Ideally, this should lead to continuous engagement and new opportunities to establish dialogue and cooperative interaction. Alas, idealism no longer seems to operate anywhere within the diplomatic space devoted to Russian-American relations. The attitudes are poor. The professionalism is low. The animosity is high. The United Nations Security Council, that august body where only the most dangerous threats are considered, might be taking a cue from Ms. Zakharava sooner rather than later: disappointingly, it might indeed resemble “Samantha Barbara” as opposed to something more serious.


[1] Terrorist organization ISIS is prohibited in Russia.

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