Tuesday 19 June 2012

No quick fix for Syria: It’s game on!

Putin and Obama in Los Cabos

There is no quick fix for Syria. It’s game on!
I suppose that’s what Russian President Vladimir Putin and his American counterpart Barak Obama agreed at their meeting yesterday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
Speaking after the two-hour meeting, Obama said he and Putin had pledged to work with "other international actors, including the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and all interested parties" to try to find a solution to the 15-month-old Syria crisis.
Putin said the two countries had found "many common points" on Syria.
“We agree to cooperate bilaterally and multilaterally to solve regional conflicts,” the leaders said in a joint statement, adding: “In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of all violence and express full support for the efforts of UN/League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, including moving forward on political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity. We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future.”
But despite the optimistic rhetoric at the meeting, the Obama administration is unlikely to change its stand on many issues, including Syria. This is what a former member of the Reagan Administration, Paul Craig Roberts, told Russian 24/7 English-language news channel RT.
“I am convinced Putin does not want a conflict with Washington. He wants to resolve the issue of the missile bases that are surrounding Russia. He does not want conflict. And Obama does not want any conflict either. But he is just a member of the government that wants regime change in Syria. And Obama is not exactly in position to be able to stop that.”
“Obama will do what he can to get along with Putin, but still has to represent the agenda of regime change,” Roberts added. “And the situation I think is unresolved.”
BBC News in turn quotes correspondents as saying there were no smiles between Obama and Putin during the news conference, and their interactions seemed stiff and strained.
Bouthaina Shaaban, a political adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said after talks in Moscow this week with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov that Damascus “welcomes the (Moscow) idea” of convening an international conference on Syria.
Later today, UN Security Council members will be briefed in consultations by the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), Maj.-Gen. Robert Mood. The briefing has taken on further significance following Mood’s decision last Saturday to suspend UNSMIS activities until further notice.
It is also likely the Council’s next briefing from Annan himself may be moved forward from its currently scheduled date of June 26 to later this week.
The long and short of all this is that the give and take over the Annan mission, the UN monitors’ task and Russia’s proposed Syria conference will resume ad infinitum.
And the carnage will not stop anytime soon.
Editorially, leading Lebanese political analyst Nicolas Nassif, writing this morning for the staunchly pro-Assad Beirut daily al-Akhbar, believes the Syria stalemate will “probably persist another few months.”
In his think piece -- titled “Syria: The regime in daytime and the rebels at night?” – Nassif lists a series of observations regarding Russia’s stand on the Syria crisis. He says unnamed Lebanese officials formed the impressions on the sidelines of their just-concluded “mission” in Moscow.
Nassif itemizes five of their specific observations as follows:
1.     Moscow “behaves as though there is no Syria crisis. It carries on fulfilling military contracts signed with the Syrian government. It explicitly ignores Western sanctions against the regime, saying it doesn’t bother about them and they are irrelevant. It reiterates its determination to fulfill all contracts signed between the two countries.”
2.   Moscow does not conceal its “full coordination with Damascus on events and developments facing the regime, particularly as concerns its opponents who are being funded and armed unconditionally.” Russian officials do not deny being aware of escalating violence against the regime, which says it is in a position of legitimate self-defense. Contrary to previous impressions, “Russia is neither surprised nor embarrassed by the growing violence.” In step with Damascus, it lays the blame at the door of the opposition’s Western and Arab backers.
3.     Moscow reads the election of Syrian Kurdish activist Abdulbaset Sieda head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) as “an attempt to introduce the Kurdish factor into the equation and broaden the scope of confrontation with the regime religiously, socially and ideologically. Another aim of Sieda’s election is to turn the Kurds against the Syrian president who naturalized them and gave them their civil rights at the onset of the crisis.”
4.  Inasmuch as they are adamant about standing by Assad’s regime, and notwithstanding their call for an international conference on Syria, the Russians acknowledge that one reason for their own opposition’s demonstrations against Putin is his endorsement of Assad. But having been duped in Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the Russian officials told their Lebanese opposite numbers they won’t let this happen with Syria, whether inside or outside the UN Security Council.
5.     Moscow’s “confidence in the survival of the regime of Assad and his inner circle parallel its blind faith in the Syrian army’s unity and cohesion. Russians consider the Syrian army an immutable bedrock that will “protect the regime, prevent its collapse and preclude the president’s forcible ouster…”
On the ground in Syria, Nassif registers pluses and minuses for the regime and its opponents over the past three months.
Among them:
  • The army has “lost control of cardinal sections of the rural areas of some major cities such as Damascus, Aleppo and Idlib… The chaos there was condensed in a sentence: ‘The regime in daytime and the rebels at night.’”
  • The number of mass protests against the regime has dwindled considerably.
  • Save for Homs, “which has been marginalized, destroyed and depopulated,” the regime maintains full control of the big cities, specially the capital Damascus.