THE ENIGMA OF RUSSIAN POLICY IN SYRIA
"Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that the UN Security Council would not allow a mandate on the intervention into Syria. "There will be no external intervention by the [UN] Security Council, I guarantee you," Lavrov told journalists in Kazakhstan's capital of Astana. Western countries have been attempting to make the UN Security Council take tough measures against the Syrian government, where according to UN statistics some 9,000 have been killed during clashes between government forces and the opposition since March of last year. So far the Security Council has not come to a unanimous decision since both Russia and China have vetoed intervention into Syria so as not to repeat the "Libyan scenario." Earlier on Thursday, UN special envoy Kofi Annan said his six-point peace plan aimed to stop violence in Syria is "not being implemented." “Today, despite the acceptance of the six-point plan and the deployment of a courageous mission of United Nations observers to Syria, I must be frank and confirm that the plan is not being implemented,” he told the UN General Assembly. The six-point plan put forward by Annan in March called for a ceasefire and access for humanitarian agencies to Syria. It also envisioned the release of detainees, a political dialogue with account for the aspirations of the Syrian people, and unrestricted access of international media to the country. Russia's Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, also said on Thursday that Russia has proposed holding an international conference on settling the situation in Syria in the near future.""Lavrov Guarantees 'no external intervention' in Syria." Novosti. 7 June 2012, in www.en.rian.ru.
"Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin last night called for an end to violence in Syria and moves towards “political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system”, after talks at the G20 summit in Mexico. After days of diplomatic sniping between Washington and Moscow, the two sides were able to issue a joint statement on Syria after talks on the first day of the summit at Los Cabos. The meeting – the first between the two leaders since Mr Putin began his latest term as Russian president – was overshadowed by mutual suspicion about the respective Russia and US interests in Syria. Although the meeting spawned a joint communiqué, there was no suggestion that Moscow is prepared to back tougher UN sanctions in Syria to help force Bashar al-Assad out of office. The joint statement gave support to Kofi Annan’s peace drive and calls for the “Syrians themselves” to undertake the transition to democracy while retaining the country’s current boundaries. “We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future,” the two leaders said. Mr Obama said that on Syria the two “agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war and the kind of horrific events that we’ve seen over the last several weeks”. He added: “We pledged to work with other international actors, including the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and all interested parties in trying to find a resolution to this problem.” Mr Putin, said after their two-hour meeting: “From my perspective we’ve been able to find many commonalities” on Syria"'.George Parker, "Obama, Putin call for end to Syrian Violence." The Financial Times. 18 June 2012, in www.ft.com. One of the greatest mysteries of the Syrian Crisis has been the role of Russia. Prior to the crisis, few if any would have identified Moskva as being a very strong or consistent ally of the regime in Syria. That role has been occupied for quite some time now by Persia. In the recent diplomatic crises that Syria has been involved with in the past ten years, Moskva has been conspicuous by its absence as it relates to Syria: the Iraq War, the Lebanon Crisis of 2004-2005 following the murder of ex-Prime Minister Hariri, the Lebanon War of 2006 and finally the Israeli air strike on the Syrian secret reprocessing plant in 2007. In none of these cases as Moskva cared to offer Damascus any assistance, either verbal, much less concrete. Which seems to indicate to me, that there is a good deal of opportunism built-in to Moskva's posturing (and there has indeed been a great deal of posturing) and very public role in the crisis 1. Predominately as a friend and 'ally' of the Assad regime. With even rumors (now denied by Moskva) that Russian troops and or ships are headed for Syrian ports 2. Some commentators, like the usually on the mark Dmitri Trenin, attribute Matushka Russia's policy in the Syrian crisis as based upon realpolitik calculations (such as the idea that Assad could crush the rebellion `a la what occurred in Bahrain). With Assad (in Trenin's words) "merely a business client". Not to speak of the advantages (admittedly limited) coming from the naval base at Tartus. However, given the almost international consensus on the need to remove Assad from power and Putin's and Lavrov's statements that there is no possibility of either any type of outside military intervention and that there have not been any type of discussions with the USA about easing Assad from power, one is left to conclude that the motivations for Russian policy must include other elements aside from those mentioned by Trenin 3. Of the possible culprits I would suggest that the most important would be perhaps Putin's felt need to: i) demonstrate Russia's Great Power status by refusing not only to tow the American line, but to do so in as public and as direct fashion as possible (hence Lavrov's various statements on Russia's refusal to consider Assad being eased or ousted from power); ii) in line with 'i' above, is Putin's need to consolidated his base of domestic support. Not that per se, there is a large body of opinion in Matushka Russia, which favors supporting the Assad regime. Far from it. Merely, that due to the diplomatic drum banging by the Putin regime, anything other than a continuation of the Assad regime in power, would be regarded as a major diplomatic and hence political defeat for the Putin regime. Given the current difficulties that Putin faces at home, the very last thing that he needs is a humilation along these lines 4. In short a primat der Innenpolitik policy. Which is not to gainsay the idea that at a certain point, when perhaps absolutely necessary, faute de mieux, Putin may indeed 'sell' Assad down the river, as it were. Something however tells me that Putin's idee fixe about American / Western perfidy and expansionism makes any sort of pragmatic, quid pro quo bargaining almost impossible to fathom, much less engage in. Time will only tell. Fortunately for Putin, et. al., based upon the joint statement with the American President in Mexico on Monday the 18th, such an 'either or' choice has not yet arrived for Russian policy 5. 1. Thomas Erdbrink, "Russia and Iran criticize the United States on Syria." The New York Times. 13 June 2012, in www.nytimes.com 2."Russia Rejects Media Reports of Sending Warship to Syria." Novosti. 18 June 2012, in www.en.rian.ru; Charles Clover & Abigal Fielding-Smith, "Russia prepares to send warship to Syria." The Financial Times. 18 June 2012, in www.ft.com. 3. Dmitri Trenin, "Syria Could Unite Russia and China against the US." Carnegie Moscow Center. 8 June 2012, in www.carnegie.ru; On the very limited advantages accruing from the Russian naval base at Tartus, see: David Eshel, "Assad Ticket to Putin's Mid East comeback." Defence Update. 23 December 2006, in www.defence-update.com; Vladimir Isachenkov, "Russia denies discussing Syria's post-Assad Future." The Boston Globe. 15 June 2012, in www.boston.com 4. Talal Nizameddin, "Better the devil you know." The World Today. (June / July 2012), pp. 32-34. 5. Patrick Wintour & Ewin MaCaskill, "Obama fails to secure support from Putin on solution to Syrian Crisis." The Guardian 18 June 2012, in www.guardian.co.uk.