The media circus around the recent visit to Moscow of the Syrian National Council’s delegation revealed some important cracks in the “anti-Russian front” of Western press reports on Russo-Syrian relations. The simplistic picture created by the mainstream US and EU press for months, that Moscow’s “shielding” Bashar al-Assad while denying its people objective information on Syria, simply doesn’t correspond to reality. If Moscow’s “shielding” Assad, then, why does Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov receive his bitterest enemies? If Russia’s unwilling to inform its own people, then, why did it give the leader of the SNC, Mr Abdel Basset Sayda, an opportunity to speak to dozens of reporters from all Russian media during a press conference at the state-owned news agency, RIA-Novosti?
CNN’s website summed up this more convoluted reality, suddenly revealed to Western reporters, in the lead to its recent article, suggestively headlined Russian Views on Syria More Nuanced than They May Appear. The author, Tom Watkins, having followed some of the recent events, came to a conclusion that seems heretical when seen against the background of Mrs Clinton’s recent statement about Russia “having to pay a price for its support of Assad”. He wrote, “The Russian government shares many of the US concerns about the continuing violence in Syria, but Moscow’s reluctant to embrace Washington’s proposals to solve them because it is wary of its motives”, thus, revealing a whole new world to the average reader of the Washington Post or the New York Times. To support his point, Watkins quoted Jack Matlock, the former US ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1985-91, now seen as the most successful American envoy to Russia since 1917, who said, “People at the embassy characterised our positions [i.e. the positions of the Russian and American side on the violence in Syria] as 95 percent the same. They haven’t been giving [Syria] offensive weapons; they’ve cut way back on weapons’ supplies… the point is that their position isn’t primarily motivated by trying to protect Assad in Syria”.
Mr Matlock’s sober assessment of the situation is a stark counterpoint to the reaction of the mainstream media on both sides of North Atlantic, which concentrates on venting the anger and frustration of Syria’s armed opposition about their leaders’ failure to elicit Moscow’s 180 degrees change of course. It is interesting to note that, for example, the French newspaper Le Figaro continues to ascribe only the most unseemly motives to Moscow’s seemingly-risky moves in the Syrian conflict, as it commented, “Being sure that Washington won’t dispatch, at least in the near future, any troops to Syria, the Kremlin’s getting active on the diplomatic front, satisfying its obsession to stay in the middle of the fray”. Since the beginning of the crisis, all kinds of egotistic motives were ascribed to Moscow’s actions… a desire to see a dictator in power, worries about the fate of its naval base in Syria, the wish to be unpleasant to Washington, etc. Now, it’s the “obsession” with diplomatic hype.
Dmitri Simes, president of the US-based Center for the National Interest, offered a somewhat less negativist explanation on CNN earlier this week, “Russia’s halt to arms sales to Damascus may have had nothing to do with international pressure. The Assad régime has no money to pay for Russian weapons… the Russian position, basically, is that if NATO and the USA want to interfere with Syria, Russia isn’t going to stop them, but Russia is not going to support it either”. Simes also called Hillary Clinton’s assessment of Russia’s position as a position of a state that is “standing up for a tyrant” as being “unhelpful”.
What happens if the USA does interfere in Syria… not covertly, via CIA agents supplying weapons to the rebels, as it’s doing now, according to the New York Times’ recent report… but overtly? Ambassador Matlock offered a pessimistic scenario, saying, “If there’s overt, external intervention, it’s going to just make matters worse. In the final analysis, if a country’s determined to have a civil war and we can’t prevent it, getting in the middle of it and killing more people doesn’t really help things”.
One could not agree more.
12 July 2012
Voice of Russia World Service