The so-called “rebels” are mainly Sunni fanatics who want to murder Alawis, Shias, and Christians… and Sunnis they brand insufficiently “observant”. In short, the USA is backing the radical Islamists again, just as it did in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Iraq. If you doubt my words, ask a Serb from Kosovo, a Christian from Damascus, an Assyrian from Baghdad, or an ordinary bloke from Kabul. The USA aids the most violent Islamists, every time, all the time (Republican or Democrat President, it doesn’t matter, the USA aids the bullies)…
Amid grisly images of slaughter coming almost daily out of Syria, Russia’s continued refusal to sanction UN action against embattled President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has seen it face a barrage of Western criticism. On Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in just the latest attack on Moscow’s stance, said, “[The Russians] are telling me they don’t want to see a civil war. I’ve been telling them their policy is going help to contribute to a civil war”. Earlier this year, both the USA and Britain accused Russia of having blood on its hands over its support for Assad. Twice, Russia has vetoed proposed UN resolutions against Syria and has made it abundantly clear that it’ll block any attempt to seek Security Council approval for a foreign military intervention in the troubled Middle Eastern country. This position showed no signs of significant change even after last Friday’s massacre of over 100 men, women, and children in the Syrian town of Houla, an atrocity the UN believes was at least partly the work of a shadowy militia group loyal to Assad.
Of course, Syria has long been one of Russia’s strongest allies in the Middle East, and a reliable purchaser of Russian weapons. The Syrian port of Tartus also hosts the Kremlin’s only naval base outside the former Soviet Union. However, is this all that lies behind Russia’s apparent willingness to leave itself open to allegations that it is propping up a bloodthirsty dictator? Moscow-based radio Kommersant FM commentator Konstantin Eggert wrote in a column for RIA-Novosti earlier this week:
The Kremlin’s deeply held view of sovereignty as an unlimited right for political régimes to do as they please inside their states is one of the cornerstones of Russian foreign policy, and it’s been especially dominant since the war in Libya. Putin feels that the West duped Russia into de facto sanctioning international intervention in Libya, and seemingly vowed never to let it happen again.
Russia abstained from the March 2011 UN Security Council vote on the resolution that led to the use of force against forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, but was later critical of the extent and severity of NATO airstrikes. Yevgeni Satanovsky, head of the Moscow-based Institute of the Middle East, said, “Russia saw what happened after the West’s military intervention in Libya, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan and so on. The Russian authorities might not be angels, but they’re very pragmatic and they understand that if you fail once, twice, three times, you’ve to be absolutely crazy to do it again a fourth time. Russia has some interests in Syria, but they aren’t particularly significant”. He dismissed with a laugh the strategic importance of the Tartus naval base.
Putin’s return to the Kremlin earlier this month saw fears in the West of a worsening of ties with Russia, apprehensions seemingly borne out by current tensions over Syria. Nevertheless, some analysts believe Putin’s reluctance to acquiesce UN action against Assad stems more from domestic concerns raised by recent unprecedented anti-Kremlin protests. Aleksandr Shumilin, head of Moscow’s Centre for Greater Middle East Conflicts, said, “Syria’s a vital part of Putin’s domestic policies. He promised to protect Syria from what he says is Western aggression during his presidential election campaign, and he doesn’t want to back down from that now, especially after the recent demonstrations”. Shumilin said that intense state control over national television channels meant there was little chance of public opinion turning against the Kremlin, even after massacres such as the one in Houla, noting, “Most people in Russia believe what state television tells them, that the massacre is Houla was carried out by terrorists and the West is trying to blame it all on Assad. Confrontation with the West over Syria is part of the strongman image Putin’s trying to project to a domestic audience”.
However, Russia’s objections might not protect Assad for long. On Wednesday, Washington’s envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, said that the most likely solution to the crisis was that the Western powers and their allies would intervene in Syria without UN approval. Rice didn’t specify what actions she meant, but with little scope left for sanctions, her words brought closer the prospect of unilateral military action against the Assad regime. By striking Syria, however, the USA and its allies would be going against the wishes of the Syrian-based opposition to Assad. Whilst the foreign-based Syrian opposition movement, the Syrian National Council, called for outside military intervention to end the bloodshed, the internal opposition is vehemently against the use of foreign troops or air forces to bring a halt to the more-than-year-long conflict.
Yusuf, a Syrian journalist working in Moscow who did not want to give his surname, said, “Many people in Syria don’t like Russia’s position at all, but that’s not to say they want to see foreign military intervention. We all saw how many people were killed by NATO bombs in Libya. Then again, a lot of people feel that Russia isn’t doing enough to pressure Assad and that the Kremlin’s support gives him carte blanche to do as he likes. Russia’s lost many friends in Syria. The Soviet Union helped build up infrastructure across the Middle East in the 1970s, when the West turned its back on Arabs. We were always taught that the Soviet Union was a friend to oppressed peoples. That’s why I was shocked when I saw crowds in Syria burning the Russian flag. This is a first. But Russia needs to pressure Assad more and to be seen doing so by the Arab world”. Yusuf also suggested despite growing calls for intervention, the West had no real appetite for war in Syria, observing, “Russia’s stance is actually very convenient for the West. They know how costly an invasion of Syria would be and can blame their inaction on Russia and China”.
Dr Imad, another Moscow-based Syrian professional, who hails from the region around Houla, backed Russia’s policy of non-intervention, saying, “I fully support Russia’s position on Syria. Foreign military intervention in Syria would lead to a catastrophic war in Syria that’d be dangerous not only for the entire Middle East region, but also for the whole world. It’s not important who’s president. What’s important is to bring all the sides to the negotiating table and stop the violence… and this is only possible without foreign military intervention”.
However, even if the West does ignore the UN and strike Syria, if may find it will wish it hadn’t, Eggert wrote in his RIA-Novosti column:
The Kremlin will never sanction a Security Council resolution authorising the use of force. As a senior Russian diplomat told me a few weeks ago, “If the West wants to burden itself with Syria, well, we can’t prevent it from doing so. However, the Western countries will then be wholly responsible for the outcome”.
31 May 2012