Vladimir Yakunin, the former Russian Railways boss and KGB spy, leaned forward to describe the way the world is going. It was the middle of October, and he had just convened an annual gathering of statesmen from countries that are, as a rule, sympathetic to the Kremlin. Held each fall on the Greek island of Rhodes, the summit provides a chance for Russia’s allies to compare notes, assess opportunities and make plans for the future. Yakunin, an old friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, serves as the master of ceremonies.
The global context this year seemed to suit his message perfectly. Six days before the summit opened at the Rhodes Palace, the island’s most luxurious hotel, the U.S. had announced that it was withdrawing U.S. troops in northern Syria, effectively abandoning the Kurds and giving Turkey and Russia free reign to do what they want in the region. The U.K.’s plan to leave the European Union had also just hit another embarrassing snag, as its government was forced to ask for yet another Brexit extension. Yakunin clasped his hands as he considered what all this meant for Russia and the world. “We can say the West is declining,” he told TIME. “The global architecture is changing.” He took a sip from his espresso, and added, “The liberal order will be changing.”
But judging by the turnout in Rhodes this year, Yakunin and his allies back in Moscow are not in a prime position to define the terms of a new world order. The only head of state who showed up was Mahamadou Issoufou, the President of Niger. The handful of attending politicians from Europe were years out of office. Few stayed for the entire weekend. Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament, left before the end of the first day of the conference.
It seemed like a sign of the times for Russia. Compared to its influence in the late Soviet era, when Yakunin served as a KGB spy under diplomatic cover in New York City, the Kremlin today has little claim to the status of a modern superpower. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has played a central role in conflicts from the Middle East to Latin America. But its messengers, like Yakunin, have a tendency to overstate their country’s strength. Political experts insist that Putin lacks a strategy for filling the vacuum that President Donald Trump has left behind in Syria. Nor does Moscow have enough money to sustain a system of reliable alliances, the way that China has tried to do by investing billions of dollars each year in countries across Africa.
“Russia can’t really fill this vacuum,” neither in Syria nor the broader Middle East, says Stefan Meister, head of the Program for Eastern Europe and Russia at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “It will only play with it. It can destroy, but it’s not able to build up the region.” Whether President …read more
Source:: Time – World