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2 Chronicles  7 : 14
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
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Putin it into perspective
Israel - Middle East
Friday, September 30, 2011
Alf Cengia

I’m sorry – that was a lame pun.  But look who is back in town.  There’s much talk that former Russian President Vladimir Putin is returning to Russian politics.  According to news media he has ended many months of speculation by declaring that he intends to run for president in the March 2012 election.  Of course many pundits expected this all along.

This could open the way for him to remain in power for another 12 years to add to his previous 11 year reign. The next election will allow the President to serve for six years and given that the Russian constitution permits a maximum of two straight terms, Putin could end his career having served a total of over 23 years in office.

Interestingly enough, Putin claims to have current the President Dmitry Medvedev’s blessing. Putin informed the media: "I want to say directly: (Medvedev and I) reached an agreement between ourselves long ago, several years ago, on what to do in the future, on who should do what."

Perhaps it’s sort of like a tag team political wrestling match...yet not. He clarifies it by adding:

“But both I and Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev believe that this is far from being the most important thing -- who will do what, who will sit in what place. What is far more important is something else: how we will all work, what results we achieve, and what the citizens of our country think of this.”

I wonder what the Russian civilians think of this mutual agreement between Putin and Medvedev and whether they mind that they weren’t officially consulted. They may, in all reality, gladly welcome him back but perhaps they won’t have a real choice. Either way, many sources say he is still well-liked by the Russian population.

In fact, according to Wiki, Putin is quite marketable:

“Putin's name and image are widely used in advertisement and product branding. Among the Putin-branded products are Putinka vodka, the PuTin brand of canned food, the Gorbusha Putina caviar and a collection of T-shirts with his image.”

Not everyone’s happy about it of course. Take this New York Times opinion piece:

“Given his sway over the Russian Parliament, Mr. Putin would have no trouble warping the Constitution. It would be a tragic mistake. History will judge him by how well he helps Russia move from its totalitarian past to a democratic future. His record is not encouraging.”

At 58 years of age former KGB agent Vladimir Putin presents a figure of strength and awe that would make James Bond sit up and take notice. He began training in martial arts as a youth – first in Russian Samba – and then in Judo, which he continues to this day.

I’ve known several judo and jiu-jitsu martial arts players. One of the very toughest and astute of those has asserted that Putin is a hard man. Translated, that means, don’t get in his way! Just ask the Chechen Separatists:

“Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Chechen militants that he would show them no mercy after his troops used massive firepower to quell the biggest and most audacious rebel assault in more than a year.”

That has a certain Syrian-Assad flavor to it. But maybe I’m just jumping to conclusions. How will Putin affect Russian International policies? Well, he’s certainly not going to be a shrinking violet. So whatever they’re doing now, my guess is that he’s going to go at it harder!

Russia has traditionally had a strong interest and role in the Middle East. A recent YNet News article covering the latest Palestinian-Israeli-UN negotiations could provide a hint as to what may lie ahead:

“According to Western diplomats, the Quartet's integrity was compromised when deliberations on the draft became heated, mainly due to Russia's rigid demands... The Russians vetoed Israel's demand for Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state as a prerequisite for the talks, which led to the dismissal of the Palestinian prerequisite demand for the negotiations to be based on the 1967 lines.”

Why would they do that? Doesn’t the idea of a two state solution require the recognition of both states?

The relationship between Russia and Israel has been strained in the past. Israel became furious when Moscow (under Putin) announced through Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov that they would deliver Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria.

Perhaps a Washington Post April 2005 article best illustrates the complicated relationship best. Putin defended his country’s plans to provide Syria with Russian arms and contributing to the development of Iran’s nuclear reactor. He asserted that this didn’t pose a threat to Israel. Moreover, he proposed to sell armored personnel carriers to the Palestinian Authority.

You know, these are the same guys who want to destroy Israel and who won’t recognize a Jewish state. But I guess business is business and there’s nothing personal.

Through all that Israeli President Moshe Katsav managed to tell a news conference that he thought it was “a good sign” that a Russian head of state would visit Israel. Well, Putin was in the region on business at the time. But I suppose that’s politics for you.

Speaking of business, back in 2010Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Putin stated Israel wouldn’t be getting any gas via a new pipeline to Turkey. Russia had previously held talks with Israel about supplying gas but Putin changed his mind stating that:

“The Blue Stream gas may not go to Israel because of economic considerations. I don’t think Israel needs the gas because they found a reserve recently.”

Actually, Israel still needs gas and is currently buying it from Egypt – albeit with interrupted supply.

But, of course, keeping your regular customers happy goes a long way to ensure loyalty and developing your business. And Erdogan does seem to be disappointed with Israel lately, regularly calling on UN sanctions against them.


“One might wonder why no sanctions have been imposed on Israel. When it's Iran in question, you impose sanctions. Similarly with Sudan. What happens with Israel then? Had these sanctions been imposed in this day and age, the Palestine-Israel conflict would have been resolved a long time ago.”

Russian economy is strategically linked with countries in the Middle East that aren’t Israel friendly. In fact they’re not American friendly either. Perhaps this is what may have partly motivated Putin to call America a pariah.

Asia Times notes that:

“Over the years, Putin has become known for his provocative and often anti-Western comments that are designed to appeal to the more nationalistic part of the Russian electorate - and have buoyed his popularity at home.” (And, I might add, abroad)

I don’t know how Putin’s re-emergence will affect Russian policies abroad. But do know that his loyalties – whether economically or sympathetically justified - are inexorably tied to Israel’s enemies. And, in case anyone’s missed the point -he’s a hard man!

Expect much of the same only with a harder edge.

About Alf Cengia

Last week: Two State Peace Solution - Reality Check

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