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DIFFERENT OPINIONS

The opinions expressed by the authors of the articles in this section are for discussion purposes only and may not coincide with the position of the Russian Government and the Embassy

06.02.2012

Syria: stopping one step to chaos

Yevgeny Primakov, academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences: I believe that the position of the two UN Security Council permanent members, the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, on Syria is quite justified. Firstly, the events in Syria, as well as in Libya, from the very beginning failed to sit well with the idea of the “Arab spring” as popular demonstrations against authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. Right from the start, armed actions against the authorities took place in these two countries. Who provided the arms and encouraged their use, I am sure, will eventually become clear.
Secondly, from the very outset, the media in the majority of Western and Arab countries displayed an absolutely biased attitude, unilaterally presenting Syrian events as suppression by force of peaceful marches seeking democracy. The Syrian authorities lifted the state of emergency, renounced the monopoly of the Ba’ath Party, pledged to introduce a multi-party system and hold democratic parliamentary and presidential elections and so on. The opposition made no reciprocal moves whatsoever. Meanwhile, it appears that a significant proportion of the country’s population, if not a majority, still supports Bashar al-Assad.
Thirdly, concerned over the situation, Moscow offered help to facilitate negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition. Despite some voices of the opposition camp in favour of a dialogue with the Syrian government, the opposition on the whole flatly refused to have any contacts with the authorities. They frustrated multiple attempts to organize negotiations to help stop the bloodshed. It is not ruled out that these actions were prompted from outside. 
Fourthly, instead of rejecting its adoption, Russia and China offered to bring the language of the UN Security Council Resolution as close to reality as possible, which would ensure its eventual effectiveness. They spoke in favour of omitting the demand for the duly elected President Bashar al-Assad to be removed from power as unacceptable under the international law. They argued that it is wrong to put all responsibility for the bloodshed on one party to the conflict – the Syrian government, while taking the heat off the other party, and impose sanctions on Syria. They were also concerned with some of the provisions put forward by a number of Western and Arab states in the draft resolution. These provisions, as was shown by the events in Libya, could have been used to justify an armed intervention into Syria. As I see it, Russia and China refused to be fooled twice. Not so long ago, the US asked them not to veto the UN Resolution on Libya, presenting it as a demand to establish a no-fly zone over the country to prevent Gaddafi air force from striking at peaceful population. That amorphous part of the UN Resolution was directly used to overthrow the Gaddafi regime.
What stands behind the current anti-Syrian position? The US and their NATO allies wish to capitalize on the situation that has existed in the Arab world from spring 2011 in an effort to remove unwanted Arab regimes. Syria became victim mainly due to its closeness to Iran. The removal of the current regime from power makes part of the plan to isolate Iran.  Damascus and Tehran were urged to become closer by the fact that there still remains an unresolved conflict between Israel and the Arabs. I remember that in one of my conversations with Hafez al-Assad, the father of the incumbent Syrian President, he said that he would do his best to avoid ending up “one on one with Israel”.  The failure to settle the dangerous Middle Eastern conflict, which constantly tends to grow into a crisis, prompted Damascus to establish an Iranian rear “just in case”.
Why did the majority of Arab states take the stand against the Bashar al-Assad administration? I think that it happened mainly due to increasing differences between the two major denominations of Islam – the Sunnis and the Shiahs. After the American military operation in Iraq, these differences exacerbated. The Syrian authorities are mainly made up of Alawis, an Islamic branch close to Shiism. Consequently, the Arab League, which predominantly consists of “Sunni countries”, feared that this might point to an emerging “Shiah belt” across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
What will happen if the current Syrian regime gets overthrown? I wish that the authors of the failed draft resolution of the UN Security Council would give it a thought. There already exist eloquent examples of what an irresponsible policy in the Middle East and Northern Africa might lead to. It must be countered with collective efforts, which are, after all, indispensable for preventing the situation from slipping into chaos and civil war and eventually avoiding failure of the much needed measures aimed at a settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict.




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