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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid