On My Mind: Syria's future in Russia's hands

It turns out Moscow, as well as Beijing, was playing same game as Assad, ignoring the will of the int'l community to resolve the Syrian crisis.

Syrian demonstrate against Assad 390 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian demonstrate against Assad 390 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Protesters at Syrian embassies in European and Arab capitals, after the weekend showdown at the UN Security Council, missed the mark. The Russian embassy would have been the more appropriate place to show their outrage.
Saturday’s vote was the closest the UN has come to taking meaningful action against the bloodthirsty Syrian regime. While the resolution passed overwhelmingly, 13 to 2, the two opposed, China and Russia, exercised their veto power as promised. It was a repeat of what happened in October, when the same dual veto dashed the hopes of the Syrian people for international support to end President Bashar Assad’s crackdown.
What was new this time was that Arab countries were urging Security Council action. The Arab League lost all patience with Assad months ago. Arab leaders warned him repeatedly to end his campaign of violence against his own people.
Assad’s unresponsiveness earned him a series of rebukes from the Arab League, which expelled Syria as a member, imposed sanctions, and adopted a plan – which Assad initially accepted in early November – that would have him withdraw his troops from Syrian cities and then step down as president.
For the Arab League, the final straw prompting its appeal for UN action was the regime’s murder of hundreds more even while the league’s human rights monitors were visiting Syria.
Adding to the painful frustration, it took most of last week to reach the shameful outcome.
From the beginning of deliberations on the resolution introduced by Morocco, the only Arab country on the Security Council, Moscow defiantly warned against any attempt to take any action against Assad.
According to Reuters, Assad was dining calmly at a popular Damascus restaurant a week before the Security Council vote. He is apparently unmoved by the carnage his regime has wrought across the country, which in recent days had reached the suburbs of Damascus.
Russia, Assad’s staunchest ally, has been similarly unmoved by the endless ferocity of the Assad regime, which decided to launch a merciless assault on Homs, Syria’s third largest city, precisely as the Security Council got ready to vote on a watered-down version of the resolution.
Concessions to Russia intended to secure its affirmative vote included removing references to Assad giving up power, an arms embargo and sanctions. The revised version, negotiated between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as the death toll in Homs rose to more than 250, eviscerated the Arab League recommendations.
It turns out that Moscow, as well as Beijing, was playing the same game as Assad, ignoring the will of the international community to resolve the Syrian crisis. Russia stood firm in opposing what it, and Assad, view as outside interference. Let the “Syrians decide themselves,” Lavrov declared. But in Assad’s view, there is only one Syrian decider, himself.
Despite Russia’s appearance of openness to negotiating the terms of a UN resolution, it has never wavered in its unconditional support for Assad. Fouad Ajami, writing in The Wall Street Journal, calls the Syrian crisis “the last battle of the Cold War.” Syria is critical to Russian interests. For one thing, Tartus is home to the only Russian naval base outside the FSU. “The base is derelict, but it is better than nothing,” says Ajami. And while Syria never will pay for the massive amounts of Russian arms it receives, the uninterrupted supply both deepens the treacherous relationship and emboldens Assad’s forces.
What will be written, in just another month, on the first anniversary of the Syrian uprising? Will the most deadly and destructive so far of any of the upheavals across the Arab world finally be over? Or will Assad enjoy many more fine dining experiences as the death toll rises far above 6,000, with no end in sight? Moscow holds the golden key. All eyes will focus on the visit this week of Foreign Minister Lavrov to Damascus. Assad and Lavrov have together so far ignored the US, EU, Arab League and the UN secretary-general, all of whom pursued a UN Security Council resolution to press for an end to the Syrian regime’s brutality.
Syrian protesters, deeply disappointed with Russia’s posture, are not holding their breath.
Neither, for sure, are the 13 countries that voted in favor of the vetoed Security Council resolution, or the many other governments that have supported measures against Assad.
What Lavrov tells Assad, and what Moscow does afterward, will largely determine the direction of this tragedy.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.