Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Assad and Putin on French Television!

I'm rarely wrong about early signals of political change (among other things I announced Obama's win in February, 2007, http://www.otherjones.com/2007/02/obama-breath-of-fresh-air-hillary-draft.html), and for the last few weeks I've noticed a subtle difference in the way France 24, Paris's English language channel, refers to Russia, Vladimir Putin and also Iran. For several days, it has been covering in ever more detail the yearly pilgrimage of Iran's Shiites to Karbala, in Iraq, focusing on chador-draped young students who undertake the journey at the risk of terrorist attacks and kidnappings by Sunnis. (No US channel to my knowledge has ever delved into the history of Shiism, much less a major Shia event.)

I've also noticed in the last several weeks more frequent mentions of the Russian President, without the slightly negative slant that has signalled France's perfunctory support for the US condemation of Vladimir Putin .  Today, France 24 showed Vladimir Putin embracing  Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Sochi, their faces and body language clearly expressing their emotion as the US's six year attempt to oust the Syrian president by force winds down, mainly via Russia-organized negotiations in Astana, the capital of Kyrgistan,  with US-backed talks in Switzerland clearly viewed as secondary, even though Secretary of State Tillerson is no longer insisting that 'Assad must go'.....

Presidents Putin and Assad in Sochi, November 2017
Similarly, most Americans are unaware of the position long taken by Germany with respect to Russia, as  illustrated by Foreign Minister Franz Walter Steinmeyer's calls for a all-European military separate from NATO, and his October visit to Moscow -- the first to the Russian capital by a German politician in seven years, during which he reiterated calls for better relations.  Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin speak each other's languages fluently, and they communicate frequently. Add to that Turkey's recent purchase of Russian arms which are incompatible with NATO's and President Erdogan's anger at the US refusal to extradite a cleric he accuses of fomenting last July's coup, and it is pretty clear that the country that NATO used to refer to as its 'southern bulwark against the Soviet Union', is now turning toward Russia.  Turkey and Russia have warred for centuries, but this is the first time that Russia is able to offer Turkey, which has been denied membership in the EU, entry into a pan-Eurasian world that reaches all the way to Beijing.

It's important for observers of the world scene to know that 'news' is not only found in headlines, but in the daily crafting of subtle messages by governments, and in the body language of their leaders.

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