2/1/2013 — Lakhdar Librahimi’s warnings during the last few weeks – which witnessed Syria’s fall into the quagmire of Somalization – failed to get the two conflicting parties to alter their announced positions. And on Saturday, no sooner had he finished giving these sides an alternative between hell and the political solution – or the so-called Geneva 2, than the doors of hell became open – knowing they have been open for a long time now! But the most dangerous development against which he warned was the possible swarming of the neighboring countries with thousands of refugees, in case the battles in Damascus were to escalate. And the fact that the special UN-Arab envoy repeated his view in regard to the necessity of seeing real and drastic change and the establishment of a transitional government with full executive prerogatives, did not spare him from the attacks of many parties in the opposition, especially the military factions, a leader of which announced from Aleppo that he did not approve this initiative.
Such undermining of Brahimi’s task resembles – in one of its facets – what is facing Moscow’s positions towards the Syrian issue, although the positions of the first are completely clear and were expressed on more than one occasion. Indeed, he believes that the problem resides in the presence of two different viewpoints expressed by the two sides of the conflict, and that the latter are unable to converge. This is why they require the intervention of the international community, in order to find common grounds from which the political process would be launched along the course of the desired drastic change. He cannot call in public on Al-Assad to step down, since this would obstruct his mission as a mediator, and cannot adopt one international viewpoint at the expense of the other, as this would eliminate his character as an international envoy. In the meantime, and despite their persistence, the Russian positions appear to be confused, reluctant and oscillating, which is why they are so difficult to assess. One day, they reveal the beginning of a transformation, and the next day, they go back to square one.
This return to square one is the impression generated by Brahimi’s talks in Damascus and Moscow, as they do not seem to have achieved the breakthrough which many had expected to see. Indeed, neither the Syrian president is willing to listen to any talk or demands related to his departure as a condition for the launching of the transitional stage, nor is the opposition willing to sit around the dialogue table or accept a transitional government before the president relinquishes power. But the special envoy insisted on proceeding with his mission to launch the political process, as long as the alternative is hell, according to his own statements. As for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he described the opposition’s refusal to engage in dialogue with the government in Damascus as being “a dead end which will only lead to the escalation of the situation.” Nonetheless, he did not completely close the door, adding: “There is still an opportunity to reach a solution through negotiations,” which clearly revealed that the two men agree over the continuation of the efforts to ensure a political solution.
But the position of the Russian minister requires two readings. Indeed, as much as the series of Russian statements towards the Syrian crisis can be described as being confused, it is obvious that they are following a clear and steady thin line. Firstly, there is no need to note the much overdue change which affected Moscow’s position towards the opposition, especially the National Coalition. It attacked its formation more than one month ago, just as it attacked the opposition abroad for a long time and in a manner going in line with the stand adopted by the regime in Damascus. Recently however, it officially invited the Coalition’s president to visit it, and Ahmad Maaz al-Khatib’s rejection of the invitation or placement of conditions for its acceptance may have been a rash decision. At this level, he did not need the Russian minister’s remark about his political inexperience! It is in the Coalition’s interest to engage in dialogue with Russia regardless of its policy, especially if it considers that the support it is offering to Al-Assad is extending his term and that of his regime. It is in this Coalition’s interest to maintain all the lines open with it and with the regional and international powers which it believes are assisting the Syrian regime, in the hope of securing disengagement between them.
Lavrov relayed what he was going to say to Al-Khatib had he accepted the invitation during the joint press conference he held with Brahimi in Moscow two days ago, thus expressing the principles of the Russian viewpoint. In this context, he assured that his country was not standing with any side and was not interested in any figure, but rather in the interests of the Syrian people, calling on the opposition to present a clear paper “so that we learn about Syria’s future,” in a way respecting all the factions and religious minorities. Even this stand is not new, but what is new is the response of the Russian minister to the accusations being cast against his country, assuring that his country was not the only one rejecting a Security Council resolution under Chapter VII to allow foreign intervention, since the other states also did not want an intervention or the issuance of such a resolution. So why is this campaign targeting Russia solely?! It is known at this level that none among Syria’s Friends expressed willingness to endorse an intervention, while even Turkey – which is carrying out mounting escalation – has not translated any of the warnings it issued at the beginning of the revolution on the ground.
Lavrov’s statements are accurate, and it is his right to call on the opposition to adopt a stand holding all the international sides equally responsible for the continuation of the crisis. But what is unfair on the other hand is Russia’s stalling in translating what was expressed by its President when he hinted to the presence of the Al-Assad family in power for forty years, knowing that this position does not require any explanation or clarification. At this level, we will not recollect the stringent positions issued by President Dmitry Medvedev at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, when he called on Al-Assad to introduce reforms before it was too late. Still, what these positions do not clearly convey is what was recently said by Lavrov regarding the fact that President Al-Assad was insisting on staying, and that whoever was calling on him to leave should address him and tell him that. This simply means that Kremlin does not have the necessary tools to pressure him into relinquishing power. What is being said by some close circles regarding the fact that Moscow lost some of the military and political keys it enjoyed in Damascus, and which could have constituted permanent or transitional alternatives to exert the required pressures on the regime to impose change is no secret to anyone. This is unless Russia is hiding behind Al-Assad’s stringency to distance itself from the situation, just like its opponents are hiding behind its positions to justify their non-intervention. On the other hand, it could be pushing towards a political solution, sensing the imminent end of the regime which is expected by many.
But Moscow is unable to influence Al-Assad’s decisions and consequently to impose change from inside the regime, not to mention Lavrov’s campaign against the regional and international powers whom he accused of arming the opposition and dispatching Special Forces to the neighboring states in preparation for an intervention. This does not spare the Russian command from its responsibility for the prolongation of the regime’s term, by supplying it with the weapons it needs and through its stringent political positions at the Security Council and the other international forums. True, it clearly converges with the American administration and the European governments in expressing its fears over the alternative following the regime’s collapse, but what is also true is that it diverges with its partners over the arms issue. Indeed, it knows that no one supplied the military opposition with the sophisticated weapons it needs to establish a minimum level of parity or a balance of power with the regime, which possesses a large arsenal of Russian arms that are still flowing in.
For his part, Brahimi, who did not find any cooperation in Damascus and is still being deterred by the oppositionists, did not blame these two sides solely for the transformation of the crisis into hell. He thus said that the Syrians were responsible for change, but that they could not do it alone and required the help of foreign sides, i.e. the regional and international powers, to find common grounds and build a transitional phase. And the question is: For how long will the Geneva Statement parties continue to issue ambiguous positions, while holding the keys to the doors of the Syrian hell, which has become a blazing part of the domestic political game in Iraq? Following General Wissam al-Hassan’s assassination, the superpowers expressed acute concerns over political calm in Lebanon and they are still sustaining this calm. So, can they disregard what is happening in the Sunni provinces in Iraq? Washington intervened to contain the tensions between Baghdad and Erbil. So will it abstain from containing the mounting sectarian tensions between Baghdad and its opponents, at a time when Jordan is witnessing tensions of its own with the imminence of the parliamentary elections? What if the Syrian volcano were to hurl hundreds of thousands of refugees to Al-Anbar, the Lebanese North and Bekaa and the Jordanian cities which have become filled with thousands of refugees, after they had previously suffered from the repercussions of the American invasion of Iraq?
The keys to the doors of hell reside in the hands of the major players, and not many are convinced by Moscow’s blaming of the opposition and its close and distant friends – knowing that they are definitely partly responsible – or by the fact that it is unable to convince Al-Assad of what the UN-Arab envoy failed to. It must quickly relinquish this reluctance, because in the upcoming days, it will have nothing left to be concerned about. As for its partners, they are failing to convince many opponents that they are waiting to see what will happen “the next day,” considering that the fueling of the fire will leave nothing for that next day, unless what is required is to open the doors of hell in the entire region because rebuilding from scratch is much easier than fixing the faulty construction!