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.
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— 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.

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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.

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