By David Abrahams
15 December 2011
The death toll in Syria is rising and the violent crisis continues.
The Arab League’s inspection mission in Syria, nor the reported defection of ranking Syrian army officers have managed to stop the ongoing killing and bring stability to the country. Placed between conflicting interests, the United States and its European allies have yet to apply any military pressure on the ruthless Assad regime. Whatever the pros and cons for a military intervention maybe, innocent Syrians continue to suffer from the aggressive hands of the dictatorial regime.
As with other international crises, in this case too the UN Security Council fails to act effectively and quickly in response to the dramatic challenge. Other interests of different members in the council prevent it from even reaching an agreement on the appropriate tough language that should be used, let alone issuing sufficient sanctions against Assad. While thousands of Syrians are already dead, the UN Security Council is far from reaching a consensus on the need to take tougher measures – or even merely threatening Assad, as a means of inducing him to cease the brutal killings of thousands of own people.
As in other similar cases, the Russians still remain the toughest obstacle in placing effective pressure on the tyrant. Moscow’s ever-lasting alliance with the dictators of Damascus, including weapons supplies and political backing explains its current position. Moscow is alarmed and more concerned about its fears from a so-called “western agenda for Syria”, than it is concerned about the Syrians. Nonetheless, Russia may still play an instrumental role in diffusing the ongoing tensions in this tragedy.
The long history of close Syrian-Russian relations and cooperation may place Moscow in a unique position, enabling it to convey different kinds of messages to Assad, as he may perceive them as a more reliable interlocutor than either the Americans or Europeans. In this context, some news reports on a Russian offer to secure a diplomatic refuge for President Bashar Al-Assad inside Russia could be a positive development indeed. But why is it so critical?
Surely, it is doubtful that Russia’s potential involvement in negotiating a power transition from Bashar Al-Assad to other individuals of the same regime will advance democracy in Syria. Equally, it will not minimize the general Russian involvement in the region. But still, for an international community that remains reluctant to deploy military force to topple Assad, such Russian involvement may in fact be an appealing way out, or, at least, the lesser evil. From a western perspective, the combination of Syria’s known WMD capabilities along with the regional instability underline the critical need to avoid the complete collapse of the Syrian state. There are numerous elements in the region, state and non-state actors alike, who are eager to put their hands on any WMD related materials held in Syria. It is a horror scenario for all security organizations across the globe, with disastrous potential for international peace and security.
As the domestic unrest grows, the concerns regarding the effective command and control of Assad’s WMD, is growing as well. That is why a safe transition into a responsible and effective governing body is indeed a very high priority. And that is why Russia should be encouraged to play a positive role in ending the Syrian bloodshed.