Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Scary Outlook for 2014

Did the recent terrorist bombings in Volgograd (former Stalingrad) result in a Russian threat to strike at Saudi Arabia if the Winter Olympics in Sochi are attacked?

Consider the following sequence:
  1. Last summer, Saudi Security chief Bandar bin Sultan meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin to seek Moscow’s support in Syria and offers, in return, to guarantee the Sochi Winter Olympics against terrorist attacks from “Islamists” in Dagestan. “We control them,” Bandar is reported to have told Putin. The threat only infuriates the Russian President, who proceeds after the meeting to make a deal with Washington that focuses on ridding Syria of chemical weapons. The Sunni-majority country’s Sh’iah president stays in place, foiling Saudi plans.
  2. On 29 and 30 December 2013, there are terrorist bombings in Volgograd (former Stalingrad), some 700 kms from Sochi, where the Winter Olympics are set to begin on 7 February. The attacks are widely seen as an indication that the Games will be targeted.
  3. On 5 January, US Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Riyadh for a three-hour meeting at “very short notice” with King Abdullah.
  4. The next day, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal arrives in Pakistan on what Islamabad is at pains to emphasize is a visit long in the planning to discuss the entire range of bilateral and international issues. However, these protestations underline the opposite, that the visit, the first of any high-level Saudi since the election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in June 2012, is in response to sudden, urgent developments.
If we connect the dots, it is hard to avoid the probability – perhaps even the certainty – that Moscow has put Washington on notice it will strike at Saudi Arabia if the Sochi Games are attacked. With Kerry’s trip to Riyadh and Saud’s visit to Islamabad, we can take it the message has been transmitted to the entire terror network.

Whether this will have the desired effect is a matter that should give us all sleepless nights, for war in Asia is just what is needed to pull Europe out of its continuing economic crisis and rescue Britain from its flood of high-rolling black market “investors.”

If the Sochi Games do come under attack and Russia proceeds to take apart the Saudi regime, the entire Middle East will be on the skids, with global repercussions.

We might see Turkey reassert control of the holy places of Islam, which it lost when Britain outflanked and destroyed the Ottoman Empire in the series of manipulations that culminated in World War I.

We might see Saudi Arabia reduced to “an oil company with a flag” status of other sheikdoms of the Gulf.

Depending on how the Sunni-Sh’iah war plays out in the Gulf, we might see a collapse of authority in several countries, affecting a key regional market that has buoyed Chinese exports in a season of faltering growth. 

If the Chinese economy deflates – as it is on the verge of doing anyway – it would send shock-waves radiating to the South-East Asian and Indian economies.

There might be wrenching changes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan equation as both countries are destabilized and Britain seeks a replacement for the ISI to manage terrorist groups running the $60 billion opium-heroin trade.

India, in an election season that seems likely to result in a hung parliament, will seem ripe for the plucking to Brit-Pak adventurers.

Overall, this scary scenario of multiple interlinked instabilities is a 21st Century version of the one that precipitated World War I exactly a hundred years ago.

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