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Moscow’s delusions regarding Assad’s future

December 29, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Syria’s present day borders are the result of the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement between France and Britain. In the final weeks of 2015, the UN Security Council has been drawing up an agreement that could potentially bring about a new future for Syria and provide a way out of the country’s political impasse and destructive civil war, which the Syrian regime began nearly five years ago and which bears sole responsibility. Almost a century lies between the birth of modern Syria as we know it and the Security Council’s latest deliberations. Will any resultant UN decision lead to an end of the Syrian civil war? Could it possibly lead Syria into a transitional period that would allow for the rebuilding of a secular and democratic state that gives equal rights to all of Syria’s citizens and unites them?

The truth is that the Security Council’s decision will be an agreement from the middle ground of the regional and international parties involved in the Syrian conflict and not agreed by the Syrians themselves. Both the Syrian regime and the opposition will find themselves forced to live with the outcome of this decision, even if they do not fully agree with it. In reality, the outcome of the agreement will be the decision of the world’s superpower, the United States, which does not want to find itself entangled politically or military in Syria, along with another great though lesser power, Russia.

Unlike the US, Russia has involved itself militarily and politically in the Syrian conflict and, as a result, has become more involved in the outcome of this crisis than other international actors. A solution to the conflict will rely first and foremost on what Russia decides if there is to be a peaceful outcome. Will Russia act as the primary actor in achieving a ceasefire? Will it then stop targeting civilians in air strikes and focus on Daesh? Will it impose a fait accompli on the Assad regime, forcing it to respect the terms of a ceasefire and stop using explosive barrels? Will Moscow convince Iran to abandon Assad as an ally even though the government in Tehran believes firmly that there is no alternative to the current president in Damascus? Without clear answers to such questions the efforts of the Security Council will be nothing other than more paper for the crisis file.

It is clear that Russia has left Assad’s future in Syria as something that requires a great deal of imagination. The potential outcomes are vague but what is clear is that Russia is now the strongest player in the arena. Russia reiterates its belief that the future of Syria is in the hands of the Syrians themselves. In principle, this is true, but the principle and reality of the political game that the Syrian conflict has become makes such a declaration lacking in sound logic. Moscow knows that the Syrian president’s is a bloodthirsty regime and that it is he who decides the fate of the Syrian people, not vice versa. If Russia is sincere about this issue then it is obligated politically and morally to correct the deviation of the conflict and allow the people to decide the fate of Assad. Russia’s military intervention in Syria, though, suggests that Moscow seeks to tip the scale in favour of the regime and employ the UN resolution as a cover for its desire to reinstate itself as a super power.

US President Barack Obama and Europe have abandoned the Syrian people. This, along with Russian and Iranian involvement and the divided regional Arab input, tells the Syrians that they are on their own against the tripartite alliance of Damascus, Moscow and Tehran. What could their position be after all this destruction, violence and killing? If Russia is true in its claim that the Syrian people are the ones who are able to determine Assad’s fate, will they allow the opposition to abide by a ceasefire and start negotiations before Assad’s fate is determined? This is doubtful. The people have lost their confidence in the Syrian president and the Russians have not given them any reason to change their view. It remains a matter of the utmost importance that Russia acknowledges that the Syrian people will not allow Assad to be a part of their future as he is responsible for the bloodshed and destruction that has taken place in his country before anyone else. How will the Russians deal with this fact?

The international community’s decision will not give the Syrian people anything tangible. It will give the Obama administration a fig leaf to cover its incoherent foreign policy and give Russia a cover for the mysterious motives of its mission in Syria. Moreover, no final decision made by the Security Council could provide Syria with security, as no one knows how this could be ensured. In other words, the recent international efforts to find a solution for the Syrian crisis are full of uncertainty clouded by the darkness of Syria’s turbulent future.

This brings us back to the question as to how Syria was formed in the first place and the reasons why it now finds itself under scrutiny at the UN Security Council. One hundred years after the birth of their state, the Syrian people find themselves drowning in blood, violence and destruction, as well as subject to displacement and torture due to global indifference. They find themselves having to work under international pressure to re-establish a new state. The years of national liberation and resistance against colonialism have passed. Syria’s position within the greater Arab-Israeli conflict is also a thing of the past. Israel came into existence nearly 42 years after Syria and this is where the harshness of time begins to kick in. The borders of the Levant as we know it have ceased to exist and this is exactly what Israel wants because it has become an actor in this conflict indirectly, whereas, Syria has historically tried to find a sense of strategic balance with Israel.

According to all of the factors mentioned above, the political dynamics of today’s Syria have rendered the country as the victim of what is essentially joint Iranian and Russian occupation. It has been reduced to a territory that has fallen victim to a proxy war as numerous sides claim to be fighting against Daesh. The Russians have maintained their military base in Latakia with Assad’s support and they have also been forced to coordinate with Israel. Thus, Assad, who once fought against Israel, is still in power because of Israel’s support along with Iranian and Russian protection.

The worst part of all of this is that the Syrian Arab Ba’ath Party is responsible as it has been in power for nearly half of modern Syria’s existence. The party came into existence in 1968 when Hafez Assad began his 30 year rule of the country; that’s been followed by his son’s 15 year rule. This means that the Syrian tragedy began from within and was exacerbated by the Ba’ath Party’s rule and the role of the Assad family. Yet, Moscow still insists that it is the Syrian people who should decide the fate of the president. Ironically, Assad told the Wall Street Journal on 31 January 2011, nearly two months before the start of the Syrian revolution that, “If the world does not see the need for reform in Egypt and Tunisia then it is too late for any reforms.” Judging by Assad’s words, Syria is not really in need of repair, but the truth is that the country will never go back to the way it was.

Translated Alkhaleejonline, 20 December, 2015.