DEVELOPMENTS ROUND SYRIA
In the recent period a definite change of the stance of Russia on Syrian issue has been the most remarkable among the developments round that country.
It is known that Syria plays an important role in the Middle East policy of Russia. By means of Syria Moscow secures its presence in many processes in the region and loss of Syria will seriously restrict the capabilities of the Russia in the Middle East. So, since March 2011, when mass disturbances started in Syria and throughout recent months when the pressure of the US and its allies imposed on the al-Assad regime has been getting stronger, the stance of Moscow has remained unchanged, i.e. it has maintained status-quo1.
But in recent weeks, as we have mentioned, a kind of shift has been observed in the stance of Moscow on the Syrian issue.
After Moscow and Beijing on February 4 put a veto on resolution proposed by the US, France and Great Britain in the UN Security Council2, on February 7 the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Lavrov and the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service Mikhail Fradkov visited Damascus. Though nothing but the official statements on the negotiations of the later with the president of Syria Bashar al-Assad was published, but the fact that Moscow commissioned to Damascus such key figures comes to prove that there is an issue of elaborating new decision with the al-Assad regime3.
But if in the negotiations with Syria the goals of the Russian party are not secret – to obtain softening of the al-Assad regime’s stance (this is particularly proved by the fact that after the visit of Lavrov and Fradkov it was stated that Syria in the near future was going to accept new constitution which would provide broader rights to the population), then the goals pursued by Moscow in the negotiations with the Western powers are not known. And the fact that those negotiations are proceeding can be seen not only from the statements of the western figures (“to understand Moscow and to explain”), but it would also be illogical for the Russian and Syrian parties to come to some agreements if there are no agreements with the US and its allies.
It is not a mere chance that after the visit of Lavrov and Fradkov, the Chinese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhai Jun arrived in Damascus and held talks with the president of Syria. Finally, on February 18 it turned out that Russia was invited to participate in the “Syria’s Friends” international conference where using of new leverages against al-Assad regime should have been discussed.
The key indicator of the changing situation round Syria is, of course, the approach of the US and its allies, or it would be better to say, the evolution of the approach.
If we consider the issue exclusively from the point of view of the information policy carried out by the Western powers, it becomes obvious that Syria is on the first place on the western agenda. After Libya the western public is continuously being prepared for the change of the regime in Damascus.
The fall of the Assad regime in Syria will definitely be beneficial for the western countries from geopolitical point of view, and in this aspect the further isolation of Iran is crucial. But there is the following factor either – as the presidential elections are going to be held in two countries of the anti-Syrian coalition, i.e. in United States and in France, and the foreign policy traditionally provided opportunities to the incumbent presidents, the seeding or retreat in the Syrian issue are not desirable either for both the administration of Obama and the administration of Sarkozy.
Meanwhile, the western coalition is only increasing pressure on Damascus. According to some experts, taking into consideration the events for the last couple of weeks, the West has already started the programme directed to overthrowing of Bashar al-Assad.
At the beginning of February the United States, France, Great Britain and a number of other European countries withdraw their diplomatic missions from Syria, which was followed by the same step of the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, Libya and Egypt. It is remarkable that after the aforementioned actions, Moscow expressed its concern: the representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the withdrawal of the diplomatic missions from Syria might mean that in the near future it would be followed by military actions. Perhaps it is not a mere chance that the decision on withdrawal of the diplomats from Syria was made after Russia and China imposed a veto on the resolution of the UN Security Council on Syria which caused serious resentment among the western countries.
The other remarkable fact is the appearance of the leader of the Syrian opposition. On February 16 it became clear that the main oppositional unit of Syria – the National Assembly of Syria, re-elected Burhan Ghalioun as their leader and this seemed to take the issue off the table. Almost at the same time the armed oppositional units stated that they were going to establish a new structure – the Supreme Revolutionary Council, which would coordinate their actions.
And the last important indicator is the statements, which appeared in the American, European and Israeli media, that the Pentagon was preparing for the military actions against Syria and with this purpose the American drones are already conducting surveillance of the Syrian territory, and that there are British and Qatari special tactical assault groups is Syria, Of course, all the aforementioned could be an information and psychological pressure against al-Assad regime but if the western powers decided to overthrow the ruling regime in Damascus, it can be done only by military means, just like in Libya.
By the way, against this background the statement of the current leader of Al-Qaeda Ayman az-Zawahiri, made on February 12, in which he called all the Muslims to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime, is rather remarkable.
The situation in Syria is gradually destabilizing and now time works for the western powers. On the other hand if we consider the resources of the parties, the odds are in their favour either. Correspondingly, there is no reason for the US and its allies to retreat and in the near future the pressure on the al-Assad regime will be only increasing.
Under the circumstances concerned there are not many alternatives for Bashar al-Assad – continue the war or leave his post. But there is also the factor of allies. According to the overwhelming majority of the international experts the only country which can render military assistance to Syria is Iran, as for both Russia and China the relations with the West are of bigger geopolitical importance than the Syrian issue. But it is rather difficult to assess the efficiency of the assistance rendered to Syria by Iran, taking into consideration the disparity of resources.
Another important issue is where the news will come from. It is unlikely that the news will come from the West-Syria line; taking into consideration the violence in Syria they reached a deadlock. Instead, it is possible that the news may come from the negotiations between Russia (or China) and West.
1 For this purpose Moscow even resorted to a measure which has not been typical for its foreign policy for the recent 20 years – it demonstrated power when Russian naval vessels visited Syria.
2 According to that resolution in case if the Syria authorities do no stop violence within 30 days, the UN Security Council reserved the right to impose sanctions against Damascus. Moscow and Beijing stated that they have a concern that the western countries would use the resolution to implement the “Libyan scenario” in Syria.
3 The changes in the coverage of the subject in the Russian mass media is also an indicator of the shift of the Russian stance of the Syrian issue. If previously the realities were presented exclusively in the light of the “foreign intervention”, today one can more often see the criticism directed to the al-Assad regime.
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