Tuesday 31 January 2012

The tug of war over the UN vote on Syria

From my press archives
As I went to bed last night, I thought the theme of my Tuesday post would have to be the diplomatic tug of war over the UNSC Syria resolution.

While keeping my 24-year-old dog walking routine at dawn this morning, I could not imagine Moscow vetoing a second resolution on Syria within 12 weeks.

The draft resolution in its current form endorses the Arab League’s Syria peace plan for President Bashar al-Assad transferring full powers to his second-in-command (see “Full text: The Arab League’s Syria resolution,” 23 January 2012).

I still think compromise language will be found to amend the draft and overcome Russian objections before the vote later this week.

The changes, I believe, will be sufficient to persuade Moscow to allow a watered down resolution to pass by a majority vote. It can do so by abstaining or voting for or against without using its veto.

However, a leading political analyst in today’s Arab press doesn’t share my view. He makes clear Russia will hold its ground because it is fighting a “self-preservation” battle it can’t afford to lose.

"To Moscow's mind," Lebanese commentator Amine Kammourieh explains, “the issue is not Syria. The issue is Russia per se and the Russian leadership’s fate and future.”

Shooting down my anticipation, Kammourieh writes:

Syria is not so much a theater where Russia is defending a regime. It is a theater where it is vigorously warding off a comprehensive attempt to contain it and curtail its influence.

Russia suspects the Moslem Brothers’ likely sway in post-Assad Syria would drive the Islamic tide to its shores in the Caucasus and Ural regions, if not to the heart of Moscow.

But fear of the Islamic genie knocking at the Kremlin’s door is not looming. Nor is it perturbing Russia’s decision-makers today.

Russia also does not wish to see its historic Turkish adversary gaining strength and expanding its sphere of influence southward and eastward. That would tempt Turkey to look northward, where Turkish ethnicity is deep-rooted in places like Dagestan, Chechnya, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Here again, it is not Turkey that is unnerving the Russian bear at the moment.

At stake is not a Russian naval base in the warm waters of Syria’s Tartus seaport either.

Only Russia proper can cause a tense Russian reflex. Only Russia’s higher national interests, which are above all else, can rouse the Russian leadership.

The Kremlin’s current stalwarts believe their fate and future are on the line because of ceaseless provocations by the West. So when their survival is at risk, they become mindful that neither material sweeteners nor paltry deals nor insignificant regional roles can foster or save them.

Washington blundered when it hastened to support the outcry against Vladimir Putin after the parliamentary elections in the hope that an early Russian Spring is in the offing. By so doing, Washington provoked the Kremlin into thinking the Russian regime was the West’s target after Syria’s – or maybe the third if Iran’s were the second.

It is not surprising then to see Russia produce a similar challenge. The Syrian theater being today the most volatile in the game of nations and roles, the faceoff becomes more telling.

Russia cannot afford to lose the Syria game, where it is “playing all or nothing.”

In Syria, Russia is fighting a self-preservation war exclusively led by the Putin-Medvedev-Lavrov triumvirate. The room for maneuver is hence skintight.