Buoyed by Russia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. (AP)

The debates about the near future of Syria are under way at the United Nations in New York and elsewhere around the world, as world leaders and officials struggle to come to grips with how to react against the steadily deteriorating situation on the ground.

There is no expectation that the U.N. Security Council will forge any meaningful compromise that results in a stern resolution against the Syrian authorities and a demand that they take immediate steps to end the violence, approaching its sad first anniversary next month.

Naturally, many speeches will be delivered by these officials as they stake out their countries’ positions, and the rhetoric will be duly recorded.

However, despite all of the diplomacy, whether it is in front of the cameras or in back rooms, the U.N. will not be able to act based on the wishes of leading Arab countries and western states, because of the veto threat by Russia.

The Russians have their reasons for this, and the pundits are busy uncovering the motivations behind Moscow’s stance on the Syria conflict.

The Russians have genuine concerns about how the crisis plays out. Syria is important for Russia, and if it makes some kind of “deal” over Syria, one can expect that the price will be steep.

Syria is Russia’s last real bastion of influence in the Arab world, after the disappearance of regimes led by Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi, with whom Russia flirted at times in past decades, often under the former Soviet Union.

But today, Moscow must look around and realize that they have little else in the region. The Russians are confronting the issue of Islamist-influence groups within their own borders and in neighboring republics; the Kremlin has returned to the phenomenon of worry about the missile threat from the West, led by Washington. The various sessions of talks that Russian officials have engaged in over recent months have not been about making sacrifices for the government of Bashar Assad, but securing Moscow’s own interests.

The Russians might eventually turn around and abandon the Baathist regime in Syria, but not without a substantial benefit in return.

Meanwhile, Syrians are being killed on a daily basis and their country is experiencing a free-fall in terms of its economy and its very society.

Syrian officials and their allies are proud to boast of the strength of the country, by which they mean its regime and how “resistant” it is to the supposed conspiracies that are being carried out by foreign countries.

In fact, Syria is reverting to an earlier, much-resented role, to around 50 years ago, when the country was a pawn in the regional and international game of nations. The Syrians and others believe they are holding strong cards, but it is only a slim, Russian veto that is keeping them afloat for now.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 01, 2012, on page 7.




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