News / Middle East

Russia Hedges Its Bets with Syria

Syrian National Council representative, spokeswoman Basma Kodmani seen through a TV camera viewfinder answers a question during a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2012.Syrian National Council representative, spokeswoman Basma Kodmani seen through a TV camera viewfinder answers a question during a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2012.
x
Syrian National Council representative, spokeswoman Basma Kodmani seen through a TV camera viewfinder answers a question during a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2012.
Syrian National Council representative, spokeswoman Basma Kodmani seen through a TV camera viewfinder answers a question during a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2012.
As Syria's main opposition coalition prepares to send a high-level delegation to Moscow, Russia appeared to signal it may eventually distance itself from President Bashar al-Assad's embattled government.
 
The Syrian National Council, the main opposition umbrella group in exile, is due to hold exploratory talks Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at his invitation.
 
Russian leaders have repeatedly blocked any foreign military intervention in Syria's nearly 17-month-old uprising, and have shielded Assad from international censure. But the Kremlin recently has begun to express impatience with its key Middle East ally and is reaching out to anti-government activists in order to maintain influence after Assad's potential exit.
 
Still, in a sign of its ambivalent position, Russia Tuesday sent at least five warships to its strategic naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus. Interfax reported that more vessels from the Baltic Fleet, based in St. Petersburg, are preparing to join the flotilla.
 
The White House said it was aware of the deployment but does not see cause for concern.
 
Khalid Saleh, an executive SNC member and part of the delegation meeting Lavrov, told VOA "it is becoming very apparent to the Russian side that Assad's days are numbered and that's the reason they are starting this dialogue [with us]." He said the SNC intends to probe Russian officials on what he called the post-Assad transition. "We'll see Russia's stance on that and if they have specifics they want to put forward," Saleh said of Wednesday's talks.
 
While Russia is now willing to speak with both sides in the Syrian conflict, its motives for doing so are markedly different from those of Western powers.
 
David Satter, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told VOA Russia is fighting to maintain regional influence in the one Middle Eastern country "that can be regarded as a Russian client state...and where they have a [naval] base." He said the Kremlin is preparing for the possibility of abandoning Assad if he loses power or if it becomes clear he cannot hold onto it.
 
With the conflict on the brink of civil war - the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the death toll at more than 17,000 people - Assad's fate will be determined by the balance of power within the country. Recent developments on the ground do not appear to bode well for the Syrian leader and have emboldened anti-government fighters led by the Free Syrian Army.
 
The SNC's Saleh said pro-Assad forces are losing control over many parts of the country, and that the number of defections "has increased tremendously" of late. He said government troops have surrounded the eastern city of Deir Ezzor for the past 18 days but are unable to enter the town. "Some 40 percent of the army there has defected," Saleh said, putting the morale of pro-Assad forces at "a historical low."
 
VOA cannot confirm events on the ground in Syria because the government severely restricts access for international journalists.
 
On Monday, an official from Russia's state arms exporter said Moscow will halt shipments of new weapons to the Syrian government, while continuing to honor existing military contracts. U.S. and allied officials acknowledge Syrian rebels have been receiving arms supplies from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirate of Qatar.
 
Satter said arms transfers in a civil conflict, while significant, are not decisive, noting that "refurbished helicopters from Russia may be insufficient to turn the tide of battle."
 
Saleh points to recent FSA gains as "the reason the Russians want to talk after refusing to do so for many months. I hope we'll see a real change from the Russians. We'll see what they have to offer tomorrow."
 

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Arkansas, North Carolina have approved similar laws that gay-marriage opponents say help maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John
July 11, 2012 8:09 PM
Still feel all this talk of Russia blocking foreign military intervention is simply an excuse by the US to do nothing. It has sufficient power to intervene with or without Russian approval. I might add that I feel this caution about involving itself in yet another war seems very sensible to me.

by: Spiros from: Greece
July 11, 2012 9:54 AM
excellent point Mr. M, believe me we know how treacherous these turkies are... what they have done to the Armenians and the Azeries and the Kurds... their army is a herd of imbeciles rapists

by: Laura from: NE
July 11, 2012 9:41 AM
Hey Max, " Innocent lives...???" are you kidding us?? i hope you go back to the cesspool you came out of... we don't want you here

by: Mr. M from: UK
July 11, 2012 9:06 AM
just remember... the Russians hate the Turkies. notice how quiet the Turkies main screamer - Erdogan - has become... suddenly no mention of the F-4 or of the lost pilots... or the mobilization of the Turkies towards the Syrian border... nothing... not a sound... you can sense the fear gripping the imbecilic nation of Fowls

by: Max from: Brooklyn, NY, USA
July 10, 2012 10:13 PM
17,000 innocent deaths in Syria that is terrible really, but close to a million lost in Iraq via the US-led Iraq "war", and still till this day drones are killing more innocent lives that no one is aware of ???????????? the western propaganda machine is really a work of art :)

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More