Tuesday, January 26, 2016


"Just weeks before his death on January 3, Colonel-General Igor Sergun, director of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, was sent to Damascus on a delicate mission. The general, who is believed to have cut his teeth as a Soviet operative in Syria, bore a message from Vladimir Putin for President Bashar al-Assad: the Kremlin, the Syrian dictator’s most powerful international protector, believed it was time for him to step aside. Mr Assad angrily refused. Two senior western intelligence officials have given the Financial Times details of Sergun’s mission. The Russian foreign ministry referred a request for comment to the defence ministry, which said it was unable to comment. But on Friday, in response to a question from a journalist, asking if the Russian leader had asked Mr Assad to step down, a spokesman for Mr Putin said: “No, that’s not so.” Russia’s failed gamble in Damascus left Mr Assad more entrenched than before, and hopes for a diplomatic solution to the vicious civil war appear again to be ebbing away. UN officials have spent the past week lowering expectations that the talks between the warring factions planned for January 25 in Geneva will go ahead, let alone produce a breakthrough. It is a dramatic reversal of fortunes. News of the secret proposal delivered by Sergun — a choreographed transition of power that would maintain the Alawite regime but open the door to realistic negotiations with moderate rebels — added to a growing mood of optimism among western intelligence agencies in late 2015. For the US-led coalition fighting Isis, it seemed that accommodating Moscow could break years of diplomatic deadlock over Mr Assad’s removal — a move Washington views as a precondition to cooling the sectarian tensions in Syria and Iraq that have fed the jihadi insurgency. Moscow’s military intervention in the conflict in support of Damascus in late September, many in Europe and the US reasoned, had reached its limit. “Mr Putin had taken a look under the bonnet of the Syrian regime,” one senior European intelligence official told the FT “and found a lot more problems than he was bargaining for.” However, Russia overplayed its hand, the official said, and Mr Assad made clear to Sergun that there could be no future for Russia in Syria unless he remained as president."
Sam Jones, Erika Solomon and Kathrin Hille, "Vladimir Putin asked Bashar al-Assad to step down". The Financial Times. 21 January 2016, in www.ft.com
"In 2011, Bashar al-Assad made a bet, wagering that (1) the West would one day recoil from its love affair with Middle Eastern revolution and return to the familiar comfort of secular authoritarianism, and that (2) his own regime would still be standing when that happened. It is now happening, but whether or not Assad’s regime is still standing, qua regime, is a matter of definition. The Syrian president has so far shown little ability to exploit political openings like these. To an increasing number of European politicians, he does indeed look like the lesser evil, but also like a spectacularly incompetent evil. His regime appears to them to be too broken, too poor, too polarizing, too sectarian, too inflexible, and too unreliable to work with—more like a spent force than a least-bad-option. Assad’s diplomacy may be far more elegant but is ultimately no more constructive than that of Moammar al-Gaddafi, who, as you may recall, kept refusing every kind of compromise and even shied away from purely tactical concessions, until he was finally beaten to death by screaming Islamists in a country so broken it will perhaps never recover. Then there is the question of Assad’s own longterm viability. Even in pre-2011 Syria, no one could be quite sure whether the Baathist regime would remain in one piece without an Assad at the helm. In a conflict like this, there must be dozens of assassins trying to worm their way into the Presidential Palace at any given moment and for all we know one of them could get lucky in 2016, 2017, or tomorrow".
Aron Lund, "The Ten Most Important Developments in Syria in 2015". Syria Comment. 3 January 2016 in www.joshualandis.com.
It perhaps is the case that Assad Fils time in power is indeed numbered in the same fashion that the late and completely unlamented Moammar al-Gaddafi time in power eventually ended in 2011. But as the news of Vladimir Putin's failure to persuade Assad to resign clearly show, that time has not yet arrived. Nor given the recent news from the battlefield shows, has the military balance of forces, with both Persia and Russia actively involved in his favor, shifted against him 1. With all that being the case, the clear and unmitigated factum of the matter is that Assad Fils is not going to go away, nor does there appear to be any likelihood that the Western backed (American and Europeans) so-called 'moderate' opposition will force him out of power militarily. Accordingly, if the principal goal of Western policy in the Syrian conflict is to endeavor to: i) destroy the radical, Islamist militants of ISIS; ii) to bring about a cease-fire between all the other parties once 'i' is accomplished, then those two things can only be accomplished with not against Assad and his regime. That may or may not be a horrible thing to contemplate but it cannot be wished or imagined away. Not if the West is to successfully deal with this conflict which will shortly (this summer) enter its fifth, murderous year.
1. Erika Solomon, "Assad forces recapture key southern town from rebel fighters". The Financial Times. 26 January 2016, in www.ft.com.


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