By B. Raman
The veto by Russia and China on February 4, 2012, of a resolution in the UN Security Council that called upon Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down in the face of the persisting movement against his regime is based not on an objective assessment of the ground situation in Syria, but on subjective apprehensions of the implications for the present leaderships in Russia and China should street movements in the Arab countries succeed with external support.
The action of the Western powers in pressing for a vote on the resolution, which enjoyed the expected support of the Arab League and the surprise support of India and Pakistan, in the face of a near certainty of a Russian-Chinese veto was motivated by two factors.
The first factor was the need to keep the anti-Assad movement in Syria alive despite the brutal suppression by the regime by conveying to it a message of international solidarity. The second factor was the desire to convey a message of hope to the anti-Vladimir Putin dissident elements in Russia and the anti-Communist Party of China elements in China that they too could one day benefit from similar international solidarity if they kept their movements against the Governments in Moscow and Beijing alive.
The domestic situation in Russia is showing signs of some turbulence in the face of allegations against the fairness and legality of the recent elections to the Parliament. In China, opposition to the policies of the regime from Tibetan and Uighur elements has been gathering strength and assuming a violent form. Moreover, the economic difficulties are leading to instances of defiance of Governmental and Party authority even from the majority Han elements in the coastal areas.
It would be premature to talk of a united anti-regime movement in Russia and China, but there are definitely reports of the emergence of multiple pockets of dissidence against the present regimes. It is important for the West to ensure that these dissident pockets and scattered protest movements do not lose hope in the face of the suppression by the regimes.
The West views the ground situation in Syria from the immediate perspective of bringing into power a new regime without a messy military intervention as one saw in Iraq and Libya and from the medium and long-term perspective of encouraging the growth of dissidence in Russia and China.
The determined veto of Russia and China on Syria is an indication of their fear that regime change through international solidarity with domestic protest movements could one day endanger their own regimes.
The problem is that the Assad regime cannot be saved. It is only a question of time before it falls due to the protest movement. The isolation of Russia and China and the widespread criticism of their veto would convey oxygen to the dissident movements in Russia and China too.
India did well in coming to terms with reality and in supporting the resolution. It keeps India on the side of the Syrian people fighting against a repressive regime. So long as external military intervention is not involved, there is no reason why India should remain neutral.
Pakistan’s support for the resolution in the face of the Chinese opposition to it is significant. It is a welcome initiative by the civilian Government in Islamabad not to put its eggs in the Chinese basket in the face of the popular anti-regime movements across the region.