News / Middle East

Clock Ticking for Russian Political Solution in Syria

In this Jan. 25, 2005 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a signing ceremony in the Kremlin, Moscow.In this Jan. 25, 2005 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a signing ceremony in the Kremlin, Moscow.
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In this Jan. 25, 2005 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a signing ceremony in the Kremlin, Moscow.
In this Jan. 25, 2005 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a signing ceremony in the Kremlin, Moscow.
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MOSCOW - Russia is Syria's biggest ally. Over the last year, the Kremlin has painted the Syrian revolt as a proxy war between East and West. Now with Syria slipping more and more into a civil war, can Moscow use its influence over Damascus to forge a political solution? 
 
Syria’s ambassador to Russia told reporters in Moscow Thursday that “armed terrorist groups” are committing massacres in order “to excuse foreign intervention, foreign interference and buffer zones.”
 
Ambassador Riyad Haddad said that 1,500 Syrian soldiers have been killed in the two months since the cease-fire announced under the Kofi Annan peace plan for Syria.
 
On Monday, Hervé Ladsous, the head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, said Syria is now in a civil war.
 
But blaming the escalating violence on Western-backed terrorists is music to many ears in Moscow, a close ally of Syria’s ruling Assad family for the last 40 years. Long the largest source of arms for Syria, Russia maintains its only naval base outside the former Soviet Union at the Syrian port of Tartus.
 
In Moscow, Russian analysts casually dismiss reports of government massacres of Syrian civilians as part of a “Western media war.”
 
This view is shared by Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Institute of Near Eastern Studies. He has his own solution to Syria.

“The only way is the same that was during the Vietnam War - Yankee Go Home. In this time, we can say, Europeans, Americans, Gulf monarchies and all other idiots trying to play a game in Syria, including Turkey, can take their luggage, go home, and sleep well," he said. 
 
Asked about Russia, he said Moscow has no involvement in Syria’s internal conflict.
 
This week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charged that Russia is shipping attack helicopters to Syria. This shipment would come after at least three Russian ships delivered arms to Syria in recent months.
 
Next week, Syria is likely to be discussed when Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin have their first presidential-level meeting. The meeting may well be tense. Mr. Putin is never known to have used in public the word "reset", a code word for the détente policy favored by his predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev.
 
Carnegie Moscow Center’s Masha Lipman predicts that progress on Syria will fall victim to Mr. Putin’s desire to block Washington at every turn.

“The distrust, the suspicion that America is a threat, that America is there to weaken Russia remains the basis of their relations, and given the inauspicious environment these days,  inside Russia, outside Russia, I think the contradictions come to the fore," she said. 
 
With the Annan peace plan due for renewal by the United Nations in one month, many analysts say the clock is running out before Syria descends into the kind of sectarian civil war seen in neighboring Lebanon in the 1980s.
 
In the 15 months since the fighting broke out in Syria, the opposition calculates that 13,000 people have been killed.
 
In Moscow, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, writes that Russia and Iran must act now “to prevent [an] avalanche that would bury their interests in Syria.”
 
He writes that the solution is for the two nations to push for a gradual change of power from the Assad family.
 
Despite the anti-Western fireworks often heard in Russia on Syria, Moscow may be coming around to that view.
 
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave a press conference in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi. Lavrov stressed that Russia’s ties and interests are with the Syrian people, not with the Assad clan.
 
Now, it remains to be seen if Moscow can move fast enough to broker a political solution, before Syria descends into 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.

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Comments
     
by: kafantaris from: USA
June 15, 2012 11:44 AM
Why exactly do we expect Russia to act differently than it has on Syria? Can we not see that Syria is a microcosm of Russia? For decades a strong ruler has governed both countries -- effectively denying citizens a say so in their government. If Russia helps fix this in Syria, it might have to fix it next at home.
Why would Putin want to do that at when Syria has become a diversion at home where he needs to play up Russia's strength in the world? Better to stick with the old script and keep on raiding the offices of political opponents or drumming up bogus charges against businessmen.
Forget Russia then. When the ground begins to shake below your feet, you stick with your friends.
Though the steamroller of the Information Age is getting closer and closer to their nose, the Putins, the al-Assads and the Ayatollahs of this world are too drunk with power to get out of the way.


by: StigP in Sweden from: Sweden
June 15, 2012 4:56 AM
"Lavrov stressed that Russia’s ties and interests are with the Syrian people, not with the Assad clan."
So the attack helicopters that Russia is providing Syria belongs to the Syria people.? And all the weapon systems that Russia has sold to Syria also belongs to Syria people? Lavrov is such a jerk that he deserves a visit in Homs and live shoulder to shoulder with people who has been robbed of their weapons that was meant for them...


by: vasili basayev from: Москва́
June 14, 2012 10:24 PM
Russia hates Turkey people. weapons for Syria to kill Turk


by: chuy n from: New York
June 14, 2012 9:42 PM
China is no joke. Arabs are joke !! arabs all the same - syrian egyptians palestians all same arabs - really ugly


by: Bassam Ismail from: Allepo
June 14, 2012 9:37 PM
Voice of Amrica, listen, Bashar is going to attack Turkey


by: Mike
June 14, 2012 7:38 PM
Putin is the criminal person like Assad and of course Putin has supported and will always support dictators around the world. Throne of the Russian Tsar Putin is staggered, because the opposition in Russia has increased its strength. So the world can not to get support from Putin in the dissolution of the Assad regime in Syria. The West needs to stop empty diplomacy with Russia and to show its strength, as it did in Libya.


by: r.b. from: u.s
June 14, 2012 7:20 PM
thats all china does is TALK,what a JOKE THEY ARE


by: shafiq suliman from: Lebanon
June 14, 2012 5:49 PM
Russian weapon influx to Syria is aimed at Turkey. once again the Turk has proven himself treacherous and without honor so now he will learn a lesson in civility


by: JoeBob from: Planet Earth
June 14, 2012 5:14 PM
Why do you say America? Its the United States.. America is 2 continents and contains many countries...


by: MissClarity from: USA
June 14, 2012 3:30 PM
Make money on sale of helicopters while supporting the Russian belief that ethnic cleansing is good. A two-fold philosophy that is a win/win for Russia and a win for Syria.

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