The Soviets in Afghanistan, Russians in Syria… - MERVE ŞEBNEM ORUÇ

The Soviets in Afghanistan, Russians in Syria…

The Soviet Union sent the 40th Army to Afghanistan. Before Soviet troops entered Afghanistan, in 1978, communist Nur Muhammad Taraki, who was praised as “Afghanistan's Maxim Gorky,” staged a coup with KGB support and took office. The first thing Taraki did was to sign a 20-year economic and defense treaty of friendship with the SSCB. The great pressure put on Muslim Afghans by the coup administration, the tens of thousands of people arrested and the execution of thousands of political prisoners, led to a huge revolt in the country. When the coup administration failed to suppress the revolt, it called Soviet troops to invade its own lands.

The Soviets who thought they would shortly take over could not leave Afghanistan for nine years. The Invasion of Afghanistan, also known as the “bear trap” or the “Vietnam of Soviet Union,” was one of the most important factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Alexander the Great who took over Iran in 330 B.C. within three months tried for three years to take over Afghanistan and failed; the British also suffered heavy losses in the 19th and 20th centuries for the same cause. Eventually, Afghanistan became a grave for the Soviets, too, hence, this territory, at the center of the “Great Game,” gained fame as the “Graveyard of Empires.”

In my November 2014 column for Yeni Şafak titled, “Çatışmalarda yükselen ateş ve düşen petrol fiyatları” (Growing fire and falling oil prices in conflicts), I tried to draw attention to the oil prices that started to gradually fall after Mosul was taken by Daesh one-and-a-half years ago and said:

“…Russian President [Vladimir] Putin, who has not yet taken any steps toward decreasing its operations in East Ukraine under this economic pressure, is continuing to threaten that the game played in the energy market will upset the balances in world economy and as a result, lead to a new cold war.” Meanwhile when Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, supported Putin's theories, 40th U.S. President Ronald Reagan's son said – similar to what his father said in the 1980s – that this game in the energy market will end the Cold War and eventually defeat Putin.

Then we should flashback to the '80s. Like today, back in the '80s, Saudi Arabia had dropped oil prices to under $10 per barrel. This cost the Soviet Union over $20 billion in losses and was one of the most important economic factors leading to the collapse of the iron curtain. In other words, the U.S. was able to destroy communism with support from the Gulf…”

As a result of oil prices plummeting due to OPEC continuing production without any reduction, the economic sanctions applied because of the Ukraine crisis and the exchange rate going downhill in connection to all this, a super power with a population of 140 million is currently experiencing problems similar to that of small-economy countries. For example, while $1 was equivalent to 30 rubles in 2013, last month the ruble dropped to 85 against the dollar. Putin, who started to threaten the world with a “Cold War” when the barrel price of crude oil reached $80, has now, while oil prices cannot exceed $30, has invaded Syria upon the call of the Russia admirer Sham regime – just like it did Afghanistan.

Some analysts are guessing that Putin being cornered for a while now, will lead to a public uprising or revolt in Russia with Putin, eventually being overthrown. Had there been an opposition capable of unfurling the red flag against the current administration in the “Bonapartist” Putin's Russia, this may have been possible. Or if the “deep” powers capable of ousting Putin were not the elites governing the country behind Putin, we could have said such a possibility is valid. Russia boiling over from the inside, if possible, will happen at the end of years of build-up, not in the short term.

Why does Russia fail to take a lesson from the past and insists on continuing with the same mistake even when, in the current situation, the situation is not positive in terms of Putin? Under normal circumstances you would expect Russia, which is stuck in a spiral it started with its crypto intervention in Ukraine, to take a step back, but that is not what happens. You think, the Kremlin which is running out of options with Iran entering the energy market after the nuclear agreement, may reach an agreement with Gulf countries and choose to defuse tension in the short term, but on the contrary, it enters Syria and bombs everybody the Assad regime takes on without differentiating between civilians or opposition. As the peace talks in Geneva continue, it does not hesitate to carry out massacres on the ground, particularly in Aleppo and its vicinities in the name of getting the opposition to accept Assad's existence and, by forcing thousands toward the Turkish border, is causes a new influx of refugees and directly threatens Turkey.

The tension increased by Russia is not limited to the Eastern Mediterranean alone, it is also the cause of concern in East Europe. The military rush, which has not been witnessed since Cold War years, threatens Baltic countries like Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, too. NATO is increasing its measures against the rising Russian threat and working on likely war scenarios. “Russia's aggressiveness” has pushed the U.S. to plan to increase its European defense budget fourfold next year. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter who said, “we haven't had to worry about this for 25 years, while I wish it were otherwise,” is indicating that the economic sanctions are only further aggravate the increasing Russian threat.

As the game plan in Middle East that is set up on the Iran-Iraq-Syria line has turned into a matter of life and death and there is no hope for an agreement in terms of NATO allies because of Syria, the Turkey-Syria border is the freest area for Russia to play. It is going to continue to deter and provoke Turkey in a way that it will not incite NATO and end up losing access from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. At the point of choosing to stop or continue, it is going to choose to continue so as not to lose its long-term dreams. This shows that the high voltage load on the Aleppo-Gaziantep-Hatay triangle is expecting great risks. Putin's Great Russia dream will come to an end in Syria – like the Soviet Union that collapsed in Afghanistan – but before that, tough days await these lands.

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