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Russia takes centre stage on Syria

Russia has taken a big step forward in mending fences with the Arab League with the drafting of an Action Plan for the Russian-Arab Forum [RAF]. The RAF has been languishing even as Russia’s ties with Saudi Arabia and Qatar plunged in the wake of the conflict in Syria and many uncertainties appeared in the MIddle East with the advent of the Arab Spring. 

The Action Plan affirms that there are no contradictions of a fundamental character in Russia’s ties with the Arab world when it comes to the core issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Palestinian problem or the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of nuclear weapons and “international cooperation in the sphere of peaceful nuclear energy.” 
It is yet another indication that the Syrian conflict is moving toward political negotiations and Russia hopes to play a pivotal role in the process that the RAF held its first session in Moscow on Wednesday. The joint statement issued after the meeting underscores a high degree of convergence with regard to the Syrian situation. 
Thus, the two sides rejected foreign intervention and affirmed their respect for Syria’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity; more importantly, they touched on the modalities of “transition” in Syria. 
They suggested that a political process should begin following an immediate ceasefire, which would “lead to forming a transitional governing body with full executive powers to steer the transitional period and transfer the power within an agreed time framework.” Of course, “all the Syrians” should participate in the political process. 
Interestingly, the joint statement cites the Geneva communique of June 2012 as the cornerstone of peace process. (Russia has consistently argued that the Syrian regime should be a participant in the peace process.) 
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after the RAF meeting that Moscow is willing to host an intra-Syrian dialogue. The Syrian FM Walid al-Mualem is scheduled to visit Moscow on Monday and a visit by the Syrian opposition leader  Moaz al-Khatib to Russia in March is also on the cards. 
Things seem to be looking up. The MFA in Moscow has been tweeting good tidings: “Today [Wednesday] we heard that there are signs of a move towards dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.” 
Furthermore, the MFA tweets attributed to Lavrov the following remarks: “We [Russia] have done a great deal to convince the Syrian leadership to cooperate with the Arab league on the basis of its initiative.” Again: “Russia has supported the idea of sending Arab League observers to Syria.” Yet again, interestingly: “It is important that the readiness the Syrian opposition leaders have shown for dialogue is reciprocated by the government.” 
Lavrov strongly nudged the Syrian regime in the presence of the Arab League secretary-general Nabil al-Arabi (who was in Moscow on Wednesday for the RAF meeting): “The need to start a dialogue becomes more and more clear. Neither side can allow itself to bet on a military settlement as this is a path to nowhere, a path to self-destruction.” 
Significantly, Egyptian FM Mohamed Kamel Amr attended the RAF meeting. This is Amr’s second visit to Moscow in the past two months. Egypt is set to assume the rotating presidency of the Arab League. 
Attention now shifts to Rome where on coming Thursday and Friday, the countries clamoring for “regime change” in Syria will meet — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc. This will be US secretary of state John Kerry’s first major involvement with the Syrian question. 
With the peace doves straining to spread wings and take to the Moscow skies, the meeting in Rome needs to ponder over the appropriateness of continued beating of the war drum. The prospect of the US arming Syrian rebels seems even more improbable today. 
Having said that, notwithstanding tactical retreats, the US strategy hasn’t fundamentally changed. The immediate priority will be to work toward forming a transitional government in Syria, which is not “anti-Western”, and which Washington hopes to influence. 
Meanwhile, US would hope that the Syrian government forces and radical islamist fighters would degrade each other and get weakened by the day. From the US viewpoint, the post-Bashar al-Assad era may have begun already, although the spectre of al-Qaeda instils doubts about hastening the dynamic on the ground.
The heart of the matter is that the Syrian crisis has already shifted the regional strategic balance. The rupture in Hamas’s ties with Damascus, eruption of Shia-Sunni sectarian tensions, isolation of Iran in the Arab world — these have shown seamless potentials for “managing” the Syrian crisis on a broad spectrum with a view to calibrating other regional issues such as the Iran nuclear issue, Palestinian problem, Israeli intransigence, etc. 
Again, on an even broader scale, Syrian conflict did provide the alibi for the deployment of the US’s missile defence system in Turkey, where the real purpose is to aim at other targets

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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4 Responses

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  1. Debasish Sarkar says

    I can visualize that there will be an ultimate military confrontation between China and Russia/India. Chinese hegemony of Expansion it’s Brand of communism to engulf the whole Asia, will be blocked by the Combine forces of Russian and Indian to gather. I presume that such scenario will be enacted with in 25 Years of time..

  2. tick says

    In a way it is safe for India that Russia has assumed center stage on Syrian crisis. If the hypothesis below is valid, it probably has implication for India on terror front.

    US is presently in a state of impasse, not just in financial front. The external policy divide is even more fundamental and reflected in the impasse over Hagel vote. His confirmation with vote along party lines would indicate continuation of the impasse, an outcome otherwise would imply a K.O. win for greater Israel proponents. On this vote depends also the future of US-Russia reset.

    The risk now is that strong reiteration of Russian leadership by China may alter the dynamics of the region. India also would be exposed and made even more vulnerable to terror attacks by emboldened Pakistan. A slowdown in Indo-US relationship may be the likely diplomatic response to veer towards non-alignment mode, as has often happened in the past.

    However, the scenario presently is bit different. Unlike the triple-axis condoning and even backing terror, it is now only Sino-Pak axis. If NDA concurs and there is a bolder uncompromising stand on terror, it could alter the ground scene, but only in the long run. However, if democracy in US and India remain divided as they presently are, terror attenuation would depend on meek diplomacy with Sino-Pak axis.

    In this scenario of confusion, it is good to see Russia assuming center-stage on Syria, which implies that situation though fluid, it is still safe. Had the country been China, the fear factor would have been of different order.

  3. Joel Gibbons says

    Not that anyone should be visited with this kind of destruction, and if the Russians or the Americans can hold it off, they deserve the gratitude of the whole world. But it is hard to see a quick end to the trials of the region. Too many powerful men still think they see too charished rewards from continuing the conflict.

  4. Joel Gibbons says

    I’m afraid I don’t see such a tidy resolution of the shenanigans in the Near East, but it is a worthy goal. If at least the Syrian people can be spared further slaughter and the focal point of the conflict shift onlto wothier shoulders, more deserving shoulders, that would be progress.

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