Tuesday 7 February 2012

Lavrov in Damascus: Aye or Nay?

The three Wise Men (illustration
According to Christian tradition, three Wise Men from the East (named Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior) traveled to the manger where infant Jesus lay bearing ceremonial gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Today, two senior officials from Russia – Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and spymaster Mikhail Fradkov -- travelled to Damascus bearing “three gifts” to President Bashar al-Assad, according to a leading Lebanese political analyst.

Nicolas Nassif, whose news analysis makes the front-page lead of the pro-Assad Beirut daily al-Akhbar and is reproduced in Syria’s electronic news journal Champress, says Lavrov arrives in Damascus for talks with Assad “armed with three nays:
  1. “No to foreign military intervention in Syria.
  2. “No to Assad standing down.
  3. “No to armed rebels gaining footholds anywhere in the country.”
However, Nassif adds, “Moscow insists on internal dialogue between Assad and his opponents. Moscow favors a decisive blitz against the armed insurgents. It wants them out of the equation. Otherwise, they would wreck the internal dialogue that Moscow is championing.”

This, according to Nassif, explains the major – but “phased” – Syrian army’s offensive, initiated on January 27, to flush out insurgents from the three hottest flashpoints: rural Damascus, Homs and Idlib. The army having regained control of rural Damascus already, its focus has now shifted to “Homs and Idlib, especially that they are respectively close to the borders with Lebanon and Turkey.”

George Solaj, columnist for the anti-Assad Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria, sees Assad receiving four cautions from Lavrov rather than gifts:
  1. Russia can do no more for Syria; international pressure is mounting and so is the death toll.
  2. Take advantage of the offer on the table: change the regime’s chain of command instead of the regime itself; stay on the sidelines after naming someone to agree serious and swift reforms with the opposition; then implement them pending new elections allowing voters to choose between the regime and its opponents.
  3. Moscow would host the dialogue conference and ensure your personal and family safety and immunity from future prosecution.
  4. The alternative is a multinational siege of Syria and the outbreak of civil war.
Lebanon’s famed pan-Arab political analyst Khairallah Khairallah, writing today for the first Arabic-language online newspaper Elaph, wonders how the “Russian sickman” can possibly treat his Syrian counterpart.

His piece reminds me of a folk proverb in Arabic: عصفور كفل زرزور والاثنين طيارين

It translates into: A bird pays a surety bond for a beetle; problem is both are winged.