News / Middle East

Russia Flexes Diplomatic Muscle on Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, June 9, 2012. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, June 9, 2012.
x
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, June 9, 2012.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, June 9, 2012.
James Brooke
MOSCOW - Amid reports that Russian Navy ships are preparing to steam to Syria, Russia intensified its diplomacy Friday on Syria.

The foreign ministers of Russia and Syria met Friday in St. Petersburg in an effort to keep Syria from falling into a full-fledged civil war.

After the two hour meeting, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister denounced  as "absolutely, politically unrealistic" an American proposal that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad resign as a first step toward a political settlement.

Citing the cases of Libya and Egypt, Lavrov says that for outsiders to force Syria's President Assad to step down now would be to deliver him to a lynch mob. Instead, he says that the Syrian government now proposes the simultaneous withdrawal from towns and cities of all armed forces - from the government side and from the opposition side.

The next step would be free and fair elections, under the watch of international observers.

Earlier in the week, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Syria in meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. After the meetings, Putin repeated his position on Syria: no regime change by outside forces.

He said governments should be changed by internal forces through constitutional means.

The meetings come amid growing hints that Cold War rivalries could resume in Syria, with Moscow and Washington once again arming different sides in a civil war.

All week long, Moscow has been awash with reports that three Russian Navy ships are preparing to steam from the Black Sea to Tartus, a naval station that Russia maintains on Syria's Mediterranean Coast.

Separately, near Murmansk, a Russian cargo ship is obtaining insurance coverage in order to carry its cargo of refurbished Soviet-era helicopters to Syria.

On the American side, the State Department is reportedly providing $15 million in medical and communications equipment to civilian opposition groups inside Syria. The New York Times reported that CIA officers in southern Turkey are working to ensure that weapons supplied by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are not going to extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaida.

In the West, demonstrators complain that Russia is the Assad government's best friend, giving material and moral support to a government that has killed 10,000 of its citizens over the last year.

But in Russia, the Kremlin's muscular new foreign policy is often popular.

Samer Khazime is an international affairs student of Russian and of Lebanese origin. He says his classmates are happy to see Russia acting again on the world stage.

"You know after the fall of the USSR, Russia was weakened a lot. And now we can see on the international arena Russia is trying to kind of power up," Khazime said.

With Syria peace talks expected to start soon in Geneva, many Russians like to see Moscow once again as a power broker.

"We see that Russia in the international way it kind of getting up, and its getting more powerful and people really hear what Russia say, and they really try to make a consensus between Russia and the other side," Khazime said.

For 40 years, Moscow was the top arms supplier to the Assad family regime. Hundreds of Syrian military officers have studied here. But some analysts here caution that the Kremlin's influence in Damascus is often exaggerated.

Alexey Fenenko, research fellow, is one of them:

"I believe our American partners, they believe that Russian influence for Assad is very, very strong.  I believe it is not true. Russia can have a consultation with Bashar Assad, but unfortunately, not Russia, not China -- they don't have a very big influence in Syria," Fenenko said.

But when the world talks about a Syria solution, Russia now has a seat at the table.

Next week, it will be U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's turn to come to St. Petersburg, meet with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and discuss a way to pull Syria back from the edge of a full-fledged civil war.

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid