Syria in a Race between International Solution and Catastrophe |
Al Hayat - 12 June, 2012
Author: George Semaan
The heated international actions to lead the Syrian crisis outside the circle of violence reveal that time is running out and that waiting is no longer an option. Indeed, the crisis has entered a race which was not seen during the past months of the conflict, and everyone is getting nearer to the finish line. Hence, there will either be an international breakthrough that will impose a temporary settlement or a transitional phase, or a slide toward what is feared by all, i.e. open civil war that will affect the neighboring states and the entire region.
The Syrian crisis has never been at the top of the list of priorities in any meeting or regional or international summit the way it is today. It seems at this level that the concerned parties can no longer wait, as the mobile massacres and the implication of Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia in the confrontations are threatening with a more dangerous phase than the previous ones and are exerting pressures on the international sides, namely the United States, Europe and Russia. With the mounting violence practiced by the tools of the regime that is not yet convinced about the uselessness of the security solution, the armed groups are growing stronger and have started to knock at the capital’s doors day and night, armed with exceptional courage and new gear.
The crisis is facing two events that are supposed to achieve a breakthrough. It will come first on the agenda of the talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin, his American counterpart Barack Obama and other European leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Mexico on June 18 and 19, and will see within a few weeks a decisive stand that will be adopted by international-Arab envoy Kofi Annan. Will he ask for the extension of his mission and plan of which not one point was achieved, or apologize and consequently cause the closing of the door before all options, except for that of fighting, further bloodshed and additional turmoil in the entire region?
Russia seems confused, although its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated that its position toward the Syrian crisis was unchanged and that it was still insisting on Annan’s mission. During the last few days, it sent contradictory signals about the future of the regime in Damascus and the head of that regime. The Russian officials are thus giving the impression they are not wagering on President Bashar al-Assad’s stay in power, and not holding on to him in case an internal change were to occur and preserve the regime’s structure or that of some of its pillars, particularly the military and security institutions. However, they are refusing to see this change induced via the Security Council, as they have not forgotten about the Libyan complex or what they perceived as being an “insult” or belittlement of Moscow’s position. This was seen after the members of NATO amended the Security Council resolution which had called for the protection of the civilians against the oppression of Gaddafi’s regime, thus maneuvering around it and launching their air campaigns which toppled the Jamahiriya regime and all its foundations.
This is why Russia is opposed to any UN decision which might lead to the changing of the regime in Damascus from the outside, as it does not want this method to become a precedent for a thousand and one reasons. Beyond that, the decision-making circles in Moscow have not changed their perception of the Arab Spring. They still believe there is a Western conspiracy standing behind the arrival of political Islam to power in the region and are questioning the calls for the establishment of democracies in the Middle East. Hence Russia’s insistence on Annan’s plan, although it is aware of what is known by all, i.e. that dialogue has become impossible between the regime and its oppositionists, as the military institution is not showing any willingness to sit with the opposition – whether domestically or abroad – while the opposition has no intention of accepting a solution granting the regime whichever role, even if temporarily.
Moscow is also aware of what has become a conviction among most of the concerned parties, i.e. that President Al-Assad has wasted all the opportunities granting him and the regime some sort of a role in the settlement, if there is still any chance of seeing such a settlement. This is why it is calling for an international conference, in the hope it would generate a settlement that would maintain roles, interests and positions in the alternative regime for Moscow and the sides supporting this regime, especially since the Western states have given and are still giving it an opportunity to be at the heart of the solution, or its primary sponsor. At this level, it is feared that Russia will lose everything in Syria if it does not change its position, considering that the domestic revolution – and not the external opposition – will be able to proceed with its action and topple any settlement that does not take its conditions into account, while if it were to fail and if the country were to slide toward wide-scale civil war, Russia, along with Iran, will be the biggest losers, in addition to most of the actors and neighbors.
This is why the Western states also seem confused. On one hand, they are announcing their insistence on the mission of the UN-Arab envoy, while on the other, deploying efforts at the Security Council to provide this mission with fangs via a resolution under Chapter VII, in order to wave the stick in the face of Al-Assad’s regime and pave the way before the use of power. They know that such a decision could never see the light as long as it opposed by Russia and China, which is why, unless Syria’s Friends threaten with the use of power – i.e. with steps on the ground against the regime – Moscow will not think about altering its stand.
There is no other option for all the sides but to uphold Annan’s paper, at a time when the latter is persisting on proceeding down two parallel courses. On one hand, he is calling for additional pressures on Damascus while mainly blaming the regime. On the other, he is converging with Russia’s call for an international conference or meeting with all the actors capable of influencing the conflicting sides, without excluding Iran and Moscow, at a time when the United States and the European countries are rejecting the Islamic Republic’s participation in the search for a settlement. This is pushing the Russians to reject the participation in the conference of those proposed by the West, one which will likely be held in Geneva, thus limiting participation in it to the five major states. Washington and the Western capitals cannot accept Tehran’s participation, not because it is a party in the problem, but because this would mean a Western acceptance of what Iran has been calling for in the context of the conflict over its nuclear file, i.e. to discuss all the issues of the region – whether political, military, economic or oil-related – and put them on the table alongside this file.
In light of this conflict affecting the mechanism of the implementation of Annan’s plan, the conference might not be held before the G20 summit and the sideline meetings it will witness between the prominent leaders. Indeed, there is no agreement over the participants, the agenda or acceptable formulas which would give a push and new tools to the UN-Arab envoy and let him request the renewal of his mission that will expire soon.
Nonetheless, the internal situation in Syria no longer allows such luxury in wasting time while seeking an acceptable settlement, considering that neither the regime benefitted from the previous opportunities to keep some of its political and military components afloat, nor was the opposition abroad able to confirm its representation, legitimacy or ability to manage the conflict as one entity. Since the beginning – and until now – the real power has been residing in the hands of the people and the groups which had no other choice but to carry weapons to defend themselves, and have started receiving the necessary equipment required by the confrontations. They are not only controlling numerous cities as it was mentioned by the United Nations secretary general a few days ago, but are also engaged in daily or nightly battles at the heart of the capitals Damascus and Aleppo. There is no doubt that the escalation of the confrontations in these two cities and the perpetration of further massacres will sooner or later alter the map and horizons of the internal conflict, and force the players who went too far in their attempts to waste time to deal with new facts on the ground.
If the major actors are unable to come up with a deal in the next few weeks and impose it by force on the parties inside Syria, then the latter will precede them and drown the country in a sea of blood and lead the entire region into this sea. At that point, regrets will be useless. So, will the G20 leaders agree in a few days on a Yemeni, Tunisian or even Egyptian solution? Will they approve a new solution that would push toward a transitional phase led by a Syrian government of independent technocrats, whose work will be accompanied by the international envoy, in order to hold free elections under UN supervision and grant legitimacy to whoever is chosen by the people? That way, neither the political opposition domestically and abroad can continue to claim it is the sole legitimate representative of the revolution, nor can the regime proceed with its play via elections that are only in form and a government that does not enjoy authority over the cities and villages being invaded by weapons and armed men.
In light of the international divergence, it is likely that the situation in Syria will remain as it is, no matter how much the mobile massacres are causing embarrassment to Russia, knowing that the latter is not hesitating to adopt the regime’s tales about all that is happening. Hence, the mission of the UN-Arab envoy will continue to be required by the various sides, until it is time to change the international and regional rules, calculations and equations and consequently the way the regime is dealt with. Moscow assured that the sanctions have not achieved anything, which is why it will not embark on a UN resolution imposing sanctions. Therefore, it might humor the Americans who gave it a lot of time and adopt a decision insisting on Annan’s mission and calling on all the Syrian sides to respect his six-point plan, knowing that the opposition abroad has not had and will not have the final say in determining the future of the internal action.
It is not easy for the warring sides to lead the situation toward the brink of division if some actually have that dream. Indeed, Turkey will not accept the establishment of mini-states, whose infection will reach Syria’s neighbors, transfer anarchy into them, further complicate the situation and cause the implication of several foreign sides in the bloody conflict.