By Arab News
By Hassan Barari
Russia, seconded by China, vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that calls on President Bashar Assad to concede some powers as part of a peaceful solution to the escalating crisis in Syria.
Had the resolution — which was backed by the Arab League — passed, it would have expedited the defusing of the crisis. It could also have relieved the Arab public opinion that is deeply concerned by the most recent violent escalation.
One more time, Russia proved to be insensitive to the Arab public. Its unbridled support for the brutal regime in Damascus in the UN Security Council has triggered a fresh wave of Arabs’ resentment of the negative role played by Moscow. While Moscow made the case that the proposed resolution amounted to external intervention in Syria’s domestic affairs, it failed to come up with any mechanism to assure the safety and security of the Syrian people. In other words, Russia has given Assad a green light to crush protesters!
Russia was aware of this perception and therefore its foreign minister rushed to Syria to give a signal that Moscow is in the middle of defusing the crisis. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that he held productive talks with President Assad. But productivity means different things to different people. According to Russian sources, Assad was ready to help solve the dispute in line with the Arab League’s initiative. In the words of Lavrov, “Today we received confirmation from the president of Syria that he is prepared to cooperate in this effort.”
Ironically, while Russian foreign minister was in Damascus to talk to the Syrian president, Syrian troops continued shelling the city of Homs thus killing hundreds of Syrian civilians. Some reports talk about the near destruction of the city. Mr. Lavrov does not have a solution at all. Indeed, Russia has become part of the problem and not part of the solution. Moscow is backing Assad to crush the resistance as soon as possible to force the opposition to accept unconditional dialogue with the regime.
The problem with the Russian inexplicable position is that Russian leaders care more about their political interests than the interests of either the Syrian people or the regime. For the United Russia Party — led by Putin — it is more important to be seen as if Russia is standing up to the United States. As polls show that Putin’s party suffers from a retreat in its popularity, Putin is using Syria as a political battlefield with the Americans hoping this could help his party in the upcoming elections.
The issue is more complicated. Projecting the Syrian crisis as a bone of contention between Russia and the West is not beneficial for the Arabs. In fact, the Arab Spring started in Arab countries that are seen as allies for the West. Seen in this way, it seems that Moscow deliberately overlooks this important fact.
As a consequence, the image of Moscow has been deteriorating in much of the Arab countries. But most importantly, the Syrian people are enraged by Russia’s cold blood positions. It really is hard to avoid the feeling that Russia stands to lose in the medium run. Syrians, once they gain their independence, are not expected to respect Moscow for siding with the bloody regime. I would not say that it is too late for the Russians to make a different stand, but it seems that the dice has been rolled and that Russia has a big stake in the survival of Assad’s regime.
Standing against the irresponsible Russian act is the rest of the international community and the Arabs. This common international and Arab stands is more likely to further the isolation of the Syrian regime and Russia as well. It is true that Russia blocked the internationalization of the Syrian crisis, but it does not have the means to prevent international community from taking what it takes to support the embattled Syrian people. There will be a way to help the Syrians continue their fight until they defeat the dictator of Damascus.
Finally, Russia’s position at the United Nations has already enraged the West, the Arabs, and Turkey. For this reason, the Turkish prime minister pledged to come up with a way to end the crisis. Certainly, he will not follow the Russians’ steps. Turkey is a bordering state and its interests are being compromised by Assad’s uncompromising position. It remains to be seen how the Russian stand will play out and how this will affect the calculations of other important players.