Voices from the Arab press: Putin and the post-Ukraine era

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 A RUSSIAN Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during exercises by nuclear forces in an unknown Russian location, in this still from video released February 19. (photo credit: RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A RUSSIAN Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during exercises by nuclear forces in an unknown Russian location, in this still from video released February 19.

Putin and the post-Ukraine era

Al-Arab, London, February 17

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The Ukraine crisis exposed the true face of the Biden administration. This is an administration that found itself in confrontation with China and has surrendered to Iran. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to move ahead with his plans to invade Ukraine, after discovering that he’s dealing with an American administration that is nothing more than an extension of the Obama White House. 

The Biden administration can yell and threaten all it wants, but at the end of the day, it can’t force Russia to back down on Ukraine. What kind of trade sanctions can Washington possibly impose on Russia that Putin cannot replace with his Chinese ties? Moreover, European talk about sanctions against Russia is of the kind that makes no sense in light of the European Union’s desperate need for Russian gas. 

The weak response of the Biden administration is the product of decades of American neglect that dates back to the time when President Jimmy Carter failed to respond to the Iranian takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. The embassy’s staff remained hostages for 444 days and were released only after the US presidential elections, when it was confirmed that Carter was displaced by Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s campaign manager, William Casey, had made a secret deal with the Islamic Republic not to release the hostages before Election Day. 

 Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a video address announcing the start of the military operation in eastern Ukraine, in Moscow, Russia, in a still image taken from video footage released February 24, 2022. (credit: Russian Pool/Reuters TV via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a video address announcing the start of the military operation in eastern Ukraine, in Moscow, Russia, in a still image taken from video footage released February 24, 2022. (credit: Russian Pool/Reuters TV via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS)

Carter’s inaction was enough to start a series of American concessions that continue to this day, with only a few exceptions. Among them are the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait during the presidency of George H.W. Bush in 1991 and the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, by the Trump administration in January 2020. In the remainder of cases, successive US administrations have only taken steps that strengthened Iran, especially after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. 

Before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin served as a KGB officer in East Germany and was there when the Berlin Wall came down. There is no doubt that Putin had this ability to link events up to the Barack Obama era and the turning points that the world witnessed during the eight years he spent in the White House. 

He managed to manipulate the US president in the summer of 2013 when Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in his war against his people. Putin persuaded Obama, who was interested in placating Iran after entering secret negotiations with the mullahs, to turn a blind eye to Assad’s human rights violations. This was the turning point that paved the way for the direct Russian intervention in Syria, which saved the Assad regime. 

Everywhere in the world, America has revealed its impotence, even regarding Venezuela, where the regime has committed all possible crimes against its own people. Perhaps, the most important thing Putin has noticed is that US allies do not trust them. For example, the Russian president must have paid close attention to the US stance toward what is happening in Yemen and the Iranian aggression toward Gulf states.

In the Vienna talks, there is an American insistence to completely decouple Iran’s behavior outside its borders, including its missile attacks on Abu Dhabi. Between a bewildered America and a fractured Europe, Putin developed a new hobby of tapping into the weaknesses of his opponents. He is building a new international order in cooperation with China, which breaches the agreements it signed before the British withdrawal from Hong Kong (China’s appetite toward Taiwan is still a major concern).

The world is changing. It is unfortunate that it is changing for the worse, due to a confused US administration that many people, especially the countries of the region, have no idea how to deal with. Certainly, what raises the concerns of the countries of the region, including Turkey, is that of surrendering to Iran. 

There is no doubt that Putin is a shrewd man who has manipulated Obama and is currently playing President Joe Biden. He will score points on the US, even though the game he is playing is very risky. Yet, this doesn’t preclude asking questions about what could happen in the long run. 

These questions relate to the goal that Putin intends to achieve in the post-Ukraine era. Is he satisfied with neutralizing Ukraine and preventing its accession to NATO or does he want to go further than that into Europe? There is a point at which Putin is supposed to stop and that point is related to the economy. What led to the collapse of the Soviet Union was the economy above anything else. The economy is more important than missiles, nuclear bombs and mighty armies. The real question is: Does Putin realize that immediate victories are one thing, but preserving them in the long-term is another? – Kheir Allah

Putting an end to nonsensical myths and superstitions

El-Watan, Egypt, February 18

What’s even more dangerous to the peaceful existence of societies than a global pandemic is a different kind of virus: Myths and superstitions. 

Superstitions lead to cognitive paralysis and forces minds to work against their own interests and survival instincts. 

The latest myth that is circulating virally on social media, relates to the late Egyptian actor Alaa Waley El Din, who passed away in 2003. According to the myth, El Din’s family recently discovered that Alaa’s body did not decompose, despite being buried in the ground for over 19 years. 

The late artist’s brother said that he tried to transfer the remains of his two brothers, Khaled and Alaa, from their place of burial in Nasr City to be alongside their mother at a different cemetery in Sayeda Aisha, which Alaa bought before his death. The story goes that upon retrieving the body, the brother discovered that Alaa’s body remained intact.

This surely isn’t the first time that a rumor of this sort spread in Egypt. It has often been said that Egyptian entertainment star Abdel Halim Hafez’s body did not decompose in the ground. On the 44th anniversary of Hafez’s death in 2021, his brother’s son stated that he discovered that his uncle’s body had not decomposed, while trying to move the remains.

In a televised interview, the nephew explained that changing groundwater levels forced his family to relocate the tomb and he discovered his uncle, Hafez, sleeping in peace during the move, with things like his hair, eyebrows, eyelids, ears, mouth and nose still intact.

The truth is that science and logic tell us that anybody buried in the ground, from Alexandria to Aswan, will decompose. El-Din or Hafez are certainly no exception to this rule. Whether a body belongs to a dead sheik, a saint, an artist, an athlete or a farmer doesn’t matter. This is true, just like the scientific fact that the boiling point of water is 100 °C. 

I hope this will bring an end, once and for all, to these ignorant rumors. If not for the sake of the dead, then at least for the sake of those of us still alive, who have to put up with this nonsense. – Khaled Montaser

 TRADERS AT work in the Saudi Investment Bank in Riyadh. (credit: REUTERS/FAHAD SHADEED)
TRADERS AT work in the Saudi Investment Bank in Riyadh. (credit: REUTERS/FAHAD SHADEED)
Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund: Between Bloomberg and Moody’s

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 16

Despite its relatively young age, Bloomberg is a well-established media company. The media arm of Bloomberg was established in 1990, a decade after the birth of its parent company, which provides financial services to major banks, funds and investors. On the other hand, there is Moody’s, which is one of the top three rating agencies, along with Fitch and S&P Global.

Despite their prestige and reputation, all of these organizations make mistakes in their estimates. Both Bloomberg and Moody’s made grave mistakes that led, in part, to the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. Yet, the world respects and eagerly listens to what both institutions have to offer.

If we look at their views about Saudi Arabia’s decision to transfer 4% of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company’s (Saudi Aramco) shares to the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, we will notice a big difference in views.

Bloomberg, in its report, believes that this move will increase the fund’s exposure to the oil and gas sector – a sector that other sovereign funds flee from – and will thus reduce the attractiveness of the Saudi fund to investors interested in the environment and green energy. 

Meanwhile, Moody’s, which evaluated the fund this month, believes that the deal is a positive step because it will add an asset that produces financial revenues in the form of dividends. At the same time, the fund’s asset base expanded. Moody’s further contradicts Bloomberg when it says that the fund will therefore reduce its exposure to oil and gas.

In fairness, this deal should be considered within the broader context of the PIF’s investment portfolio, which contains many environmentally friendly projects, such as NEOM and the Red Sea Development Company. In fact, this deal is an important step in the fund’s strategy of becoming the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.

Following the recent reallocation of shares, worth $80 billion, the fund became the sixth largest global sovereign fund in the world. With regard to environmentally friendly investments, the fund is expected to soon announce its green strategy, which will show investors how important the environment is to both the fund and the kingdom. However, the question remains: Who will investors listen to, Bloomberg or Moody’s? – Wael Mahdi

Trusting Western medicine doesn’t contradict Islamic beliefs

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, February 16

There is a well-known folktale that tells the story of a government official who travels to a remote region of the Iraqi countryside, where people of different sects peacefully coexist, to attend the memorial ceremony of a local religious figure who was killed in an argument with a neighbor of an opposing sect.

As the guests gather around the gravestone, the official asks the master of ceremonies not to mention how the figure died, so as to not further exacerbate sectarian strife. The man, baffled by the request, stood silent for a moment, looked back at the government official and asked: Do you want me to tell the crowd that the man was electrocuted?

Allow me to bring us back to our day and time. Today, I’d like to ask all anti-vaxxers and those spreading conspiracy theories that the COVID-19 vaccines are a plot against Muslims, the following simple question: Are the nearly six million global deaths attributed to COVID-19 also a result of a random electric shock?

Since the first day of the pandemic, governments of the developed world, international pharmaceutical companies and advanced university laboratories have raced to produce a vaccine against the deadly COVID-19. The US government took the lead and spent more than $10 billion in taxpayer money to speed up the creation of an effective vaccine. And yet, there are people who refuse to abide by science and modern medicine.

Dr. Adel Al-Hunayan, acting dean of the College of Medicine at Kuwait University, tweeted that God’s immunity is better than getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The distinguished doctor failed to mention two important things: First, that no governmental or international health authority, or even one laboratory supports the position that divine protection is better than vaccination.

Second, the doctor overlooked the fact that, of those who died from COVID-19, the percentage of unvaccinated individuals far exceeds the percentage of vaccinated individuals. Additionally, the recovery and healing process of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients comes at a very high cost to the public in the form of medical care and treatment, for items such as the use of intensive care beds, oxygen and medication, nursing care, and so on.

If there is nothing in medicine that cannot be provided by God, then can someone kindly explain to me why all newborns receive vaccines immediately after birth, before leaving the hospital?

There is no doubt that the doctor knows very well that the prayers of religious believers and their sacrifices, of all religions, were not the reason behind the plummeting daily cases of COVID-19. Rather, life is slowly returning to normal thanks to science and the billions of dollars spent on developing a vaccine and effective treatments.

The doctor also knows that the West invented the early warning device for the tsunami, the majority of whose victims are Muslims. Is this invention, which is similar to taking a vaccine, also a violation of Islamic law in his view? – Ahmed Al-Sarraf

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.