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Russia’s Final Attempt To Help Syria’s Assad – Analysis

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By Yelena Suponina

On Tuesday Russia circulated a draft of the United Nations Security Council’s resolution on Syria, its third since December, approaching it with the urgency the situation demands. There is no time to spare. The fate of Syria and its regime will be decided in the next few days. Russian diplomats want to submit the document for a vote in New York before January 19. On the same day, the Arab League observer mission in Syria, which began on December 26, will present a detailed report. The presentation is expected to include an analysis of events, including maps, photos and videos, and possible scenarios.

Russia’s anti-war draft resolution

Russia - Syria Relations
Russia - Syria Relations

If the UN Security Council adopts Russia’s milder draft resolution on Syria, it will be a signal to the Arab League that diplomacy can still work and mediation must continue. If the West’s hard line toward the Syrian regime prevails, this will mark the beginnings of a policy of regime change, including through foreign military intervention

So, this may be Russia’s last chance to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to avoid the worst-case scenario – intervention – if not to hold on to power. Russia’s Western partners, France and Britain, have already denounced the draft resolution. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon quickly added his voice to the opposition. Addressing al-Assad, he said on Tuesday: “Stop the violence. Stop killing your people.”

That being said, this Russian draft is more critical of the Syrian authorities than the two previous versions that Russia tried to bring up for a vote in December. It is also more balanced than the emphatically anti-Assad Western draft vetoed by Russia and China on October 4, 2011.

Moscow lays the blame both on the regime and the opposition for pushing Syria to the brink of civil war. The document accuses the authorities of excessive use of force and urges an end to violations of human rights and respect for the right to peaceful assembly. At the same time, the draft does not demand what many Syrian opposition members (especially émigrés) and their allies abroad insist on – the imposition of international economic sanctions against Syria, including a ban on arms trade, and, if these measures fail to achieve the desired effect, the use of military force.

On the contrary, the Russian draft explicitly renounces military intervention in Syria. Russian diplomats are mindful of the experience of last year’s resolution on Libya, which resulted in war, and they continue to stress this point with their colleagues.

“This would be suicide for everyone”

However, Russian diplomats believe that the West still seeks regime change in Syria. Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov recently made a statement to this effect. This is why many still find the beefed-up Russian draft unacceptable. On Tuesday, the Free Syrian Army, which is composed of soldiers and officers who have defected to the opposition, urged the Security Council to take decisive action in accordance with articles 41 and 42 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes the blockade of a country that disrupts peace as well as actions by air, sea, or land forces against that country.

Sudanese Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, the head of the Arab League monitoring mission to Syria, made it clear in his preliminary report last week that the situation is dangerous and the time has come to think about what to do next. A day after the report is presented, Cairo will play host to foreign ministers from more than 20 Arab countries. They and their leaders have their own proposals, ranging from radical to mild.

Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani suggested a tougher stance the other day. In an interview with the U.S. television network CBS last Sunday, he said that “some forces must go to Syria in order to stop the murder.” These could be Arab or, more likely, Turkish troops. Other NATO members could join as well.

The newly elected president of Tunisia (and recent revolutionary) Moncef Marzouki said on this score: “This would be suicide for everyone and would destroy the entire region.” Iraq, Lebanon and some other Arab countries also oppose armed intervention. Out of the Security Council permanent members, Russia and China are staunchly opposed to this option.

The milder version of the draft provides for an increase in the number of observers in Syria from 163 to 300 or even 500. UN experts could start training observers in Cairo as early as tomorrow.
Gen. al-Dabi wants to continue this work. However, both he and his colleagues are facing criticism from the Arab public. The main theme in Arab media is that the observers have been unable to stop the killing and must be withdrawn in order to start exerting serious pressure on the regime; otherwise their presence will serve as a cover for continued violence.

Russia is being criticized for the same thing. The Arab television network Al Arabiya accused Moscow of providing cover to al-Assad through its diplomatic efforts because he continues to destroy the opposition.

Is the Middle East better off with al-Assad or without him?

Al Arabiya is not quite right. President al-Assad is trying to carry out reforms but he has been too slow and indecisive. Moscow hopes that these reforms will still bear fruit, but this seems to be wishful thinking.

Meanwhile, people continue to die in Syria every day. According to the UN, more than 5,000 have lost their lives since the uprising began last March. The opposition is pleading for help, while government officials are also asking for support and citing losses of soldiers and police. A civil war is in the offing; if it breaks out, it could spill over into neighboring countries, which are already unstable.

Events in Iraq are going from bad to worse; explosions are increasing, and politicians are fighting each other. Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor, is also under threat – some of its political parties support ties with the Syrian regime and the others are absolutely against this. Turkey is expecting a new influx of refugees; even Syria’s enemy, Israel, is preparing to accept refugees. Iran wants to help al-Assad stay in power as long as possible, but it is itself currently under threat of new sanctions and even an U.S. or Israeli military strike.

Russia believes that al-Assad must remain in power for some time in order to avoid the worst-case scenario and more bloodshed. Its opponents think that the sooner al-Assad leaves the better for Syria and its neighbors.

Yelena Suponina is a political commentator and Middle East expert for RIA Novosti. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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RIA Novosti was Russia's leading news agency in terms of multimedia technologies, website audience reach and quoting by the Russian media.

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