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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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.

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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

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