News / Europe

Syria Deal to Test Putin’s Peacemaking Powers

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addressing media after national call-in TV show, Moscow, Dec. 15, 2011file photo.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addressing media after national call-in TV show, Moscow, Dec. 15, 2011file photo.
TEXT SIZE - +
— Russians are celebrating as a diplomatic victory President Barack Obama’s decision to hold off on military strikes against Syria in return for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. After two years as deal breakers in Syria’s civil war, Russians suddenly see themselves as peacemakers.
 
“Russia just used a very good opportunity to step in and take initiative to a peaceful solution of a very important issue,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs journal.
 
After the humiliations of the post-Soviet era, Russians relish once again being center stage, this time as peacemakers.
 
It was in Moscow where Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem broke a decades-old taboo and admitted Tuesday that his government possesses a chemical weapons arsenal. Looking grim for the cameras, he promised to put this arsenal under international controls and to sign the international treaty banning chemical weapons.
 
International support
 
Hinting at future obstacles for Moscow, however, Damascus state-controlled media downplayed the Syrian minister’s comments, forcing Russian diplomats to work overtime to build world political support.

Story continues below photo gallery:
  • This citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network shows anti-Syrian regime protesters hold a poster depicting U.S. President Barack Obama during a demonstration in Kafr Nabil, Idlib province, Sept. 20, 2013.
  • Children sit along a damaged street filled with debris in the besieged area of Homs, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • Debris is seen on the ground after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the al-Myassar neighborhood of Aleppo, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • An injured man walks along a street after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the al-Myassar neighborhood of Aleppo, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad shows a Syrian military tank on fire during clashes with Free Syrian army fighters in Joubar, a suburb of Damascus, Sept. 18, 2013.
  • A member of the Shohadaa Badr Brigade, which operates under the Free Syrian Army, stands in shooting position behind sandbags in Ashrafieh, Aleppo, September 17, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters walk through rubble inside the old city of Aleppo, Sept. 16, 2013.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter carries his weapon as he stands on rubble of damaged buildings in al-Aseela neighborhood near Aleppo's historic citadel, Sept. 13, 2013.
  • In this citizen journalism image provided by the United media office of Arbeen, a Syrian protester chants slogans during a demonstration in Arbeen, a suburb of Damascus, Sept. 13, 2013.

 
They have already collected backing from China and Iran, and gone out of their way to credit the United States with co-authorship of the disarmament proposal.
 
“For all in the United States it might be a good solution, because Obama can say — and everybody, Congress, can say — that's because of us,” said Lukyanov. “'We pressed, made big pressure on Assad. We threatened him with war and then he gave up. For the Russian side, this is a very good opportunity to show that the Russian position did make sense."
 
But first Syria’s leaders may test Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new role as peacemaker.
 
Daunting challenges
 
According to Alexander Golts, a military expert and deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal, the Russian president has had bad experiences with leaders of North Korea and Iran.
 
“The basic question about the Russian initiative is, can you trust the words of Syrian officials, or not?” Golts asked. “Unfortunately, Russian leader Vladimir Putin had a rather bad story with two leaders of specific countries — [late North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il and [former Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Putin met each of them, received the promises he wanted, and the next day both of these men said they were misunderstood and joking.”
 
And then there are daunting technical challenges: Over the last 15 years, Russia has gained weapons disposal experience, gradually destroying its own chemical arsenal.
 
Syria is believed to have 1,000 tons of highly toxic agents, spread over 60 locations. But all this is in the middle of a raging civil war that has claimed 100,000 lives and has displaced one-third of the population, which means the best disposal strategy might be mobile incinerators protected by international peacekeeping soldiers.
 
“When Russia stood before the problem of dismantling its own chemical weapons," said Golts, "it preferred not to move these agents all over the country, but to build plants and special facilities for destroying these weapons directly in places where these weapons were stored.”
 
By next week Russia is to have assembled a naval task force of 10 warships off the coast of Syria, whereas just last week many people assumed the fleet was steaming toward Syria in a gesture of gunboat diplomacy, aimed at the U.S. Navy.
 
Now, conceivably, the cannons could point the other way, encouraging Syria to keep its promise to destroy its chemical arsenal.

James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

You May Like

'Exceptionally Lucky' US Boy Survives Flight in Wheel Well

The boy was unconscious for most of the flight, and appeared to be unharmed after enduring the extremely cold temperatures and lack of oxygen More

US Anti-Corruption Law Snags Major Tech Company

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in December, 1977 More

Cameron Criticized for Calling UK 'Christian Country'

Letter from scientists, academics and writers says the prime minister is fostering division by repeatedly referring to England as a 'Christian country' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Hans from: Germany
September 12, 2013 1:37 AM
the truth is that with 1.5 Million Russian Oligarchs and over 2 Million ardent American Tea Party Patriots among its citizens - Israel is not sentimental any longer... and this latest Putin gesture may yet seal the fate of Iran in the Middle East...
Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia is a formidable alliance - the Mullahs will be very stupid to ignore the famous "red line"...


by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
September 11, 2013 8:51 PM
President Obama was out witted by Putin of Russia by initiating the proposal for the Syrian surrender of all chemical weapons to international authority. Putin was also successful to bring China and Iran into his fold, increasing the possibility of UN Security Council resolution for procuring and destruction of Syrian chemical weapons. President Obama was off guard and now he is on defensive both in the US and rest of the world. All the announcements and declarations of President Obama regarding Assad is drowned in the glory of Putin. The only question is whether the people in the US and the rest of the world can trust the political gyrations of Obama, Putin, China, Iran and Assad in the implementation of the expected Security Council resolution. The implementation of the surrender and destruction of all chemical weapons and chemical ingredients is an expensive process with technical, safety and security problems in a country torn apart by civil war with no body in control of the areas where the chemical weapons and ingredients are stored. Putin save the embarrassment of Obama in his failure to implement his various announcements; the expected defeat in the House and Senate to authorize military action against Assad; failure in helping the Free Syrian Army; and his threat of punishing Assad for the use of chemical weapons.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid