03/02/2012

The dangerous game of Russia in Syria

While demonstrations were held today to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the uprising of Homa – whose repression was between 10,000 and 30,000 dead according to sources –, members of the UN Security Council were examining today a draft resolution, proposed by the Arab League and presented by Morocco, regarding the situation in Syria. Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power, still remains opposed to the project.

The Security Council has not yet managed to adopt a single resolution on the situation in Syria since the beginning in March of the violent repression of the demonstrations against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Russia and China were opposed to the last resolution attempt in October. To reach an agreement within the Security Council, the current text wants to be extremely consensual.

Indeed, the text abandoned any request  asking for the departure of Bashar Assad and any reference to the economic sanctions voted by the Arab League against Damascus in November 2011. The paragraph in which the Council was concerned about arms sales to Syria was also deleted. Nevertheless, the Arab League hopes that even a low resolution which « condemns violence from whatever source » and calls for a political transition will pass.

Moscow seems determined to prevent any repetition of the events Libya, where the Russians absteined the resolution 1970 those interpretation by the West has undoubtedly contributed to the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi – an event which highlighted once again the loss of Russian influence throw the loss of one of his allied regime. Russia is therefore opposed to any one resolution on Syria. In addition, Moscow will do nothing that undermines its last significant ally in the Arab world.

Another reason is certainly the lucrative trade of Russian weapons with Syria. Despite overwhelming international criticism of the brutal tactics of Assad regime, the government Putin / Medvedev intends to continue such sales, as stated by the Russian Deputy Minister of Defence Anatoly Antonov. « As of today there are no restrictions on the delivery of weapons and we must fulfill our obligations, and that’s what we do. »

The United States, as the Europeans and the Arabs, have insisted to the Russians that the Security Council acts quickly, as stated by Hillary Clinton this week: « Are you on the side of the Syrian people, or are you on the side of a brutal dictatorship? « . Russia seems now clearly on the side of brutal repression.

With a GDP only slightly higher than that of Spain, Russia can no longer claim influencing world affairs as the Soviet Union did once. It is time that Russian rulers accept it, instead of pretending the contrary to their people. Russia does not have much to gain by supporting regimes that does not really worth it.

Russian abstention on a possible vote of the resolution those text is discussed right now would honor so much Russia while a veto would isolate. Moreover, a Russian veto would weaken a little more The UN Security Council, one of the last international forum where the Russians can still exert some influence.

A resolution against Syria would instead isolate its repressive regime and would mean that it’s time to start negotiating. Bashar Assad has sufficiently demonstrated that he would never yield to pressure from the majority of its population. Only international pressure could then push to negotiate a « gentle » solution to the crisis. Such a diplomatic and peaceful end to the crisis can, in the present state of things, only go through a Security Council resolution.

If Russia, as it claims, really wants this diplomatic solution, it must abstain from this possible vote. Russia must also refrain from selling arms to the Syrian regime, arms that fuel the current violence.

Geoffroy d’Aspremont