Lavrov’s chilling Syrian prediction
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been waiting for Russia to blink on Syria. The expectation is that Moscow cannot continue to support such a bloody regime and will have eventually to relent and cooperate with Turkey against President Bashar al-Assad.
Certain recent remarks by President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have also left officials in Ankara trying to gauge if Moscow’s support for al-Assad, if not for his regime, is waning. Al-Assad’s demise, political or otherwise, has become a fixation for the Erdoğan government.
Despite Ankara’s expectations, however, Moscow has not taken any steps that could alter the situation in Syria. On the other hand, a Turkish proposal for a broadly based Syrian transitional government, but which has al-Assad leaving, was reportedly being mulled over by Russia. But it is not clear how seriously Russia is doing this.
Meanwhile, remarks by Lavrov to reporters, while flying back from an EU Summit in Brussels on Dec. 22, appeared to be chillingly realistic in view of the latest report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria. According to the report what began as protests for political reform have turned into a sectarian war with “Entire communities at risk of being forced out of the country, or of being killed inside the country.”
Indicating that “al-Assad is not going anywhere, no matter what anyone says, be it China or Russia,” Lavrov was reported by Russian RT channel as adding prophetically that “no one is going to win this war.” That, however, is not what Prime Minister Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu want to hear.
Ankara has come around to accepting that elements of the regime will probably have to remain in place during a transition period in Syria. But to say that “al-Assad is not going anywhere,” and to suggest that “no one is going to win this war,” is hard to swallow given the strong position the Erdoğan government has committed itself to on Syria.
What complicates matters further for Ankara is that while the conflagration grows in Syria, the West’s reluctance to intervene is still discernible, a fact that Lavrov also alluded to. “No one has any appetite for intervention. Behind the scenes, I have a feeling they are praying that Russia and China go on blocking intervention, as sanctioning it would mean they must act – and they are not ready” Lavrov was quoted by RT as saying.
There are even diplomats in Ankara who argue that the deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey is not an act of escalation by NATO vis-a-vis Syria, as Russia is claiming, but just the opposite. Through this deployment, they argue, NATO is saying that this is the most it will do in this crisis, namely meet a member’s minimum defensive requirements, but go no further.
While Erdoğan’s and Davutoğlu’s positions on Syria appear firm, Volkan Bozkir, a key deputy from the ruling party, and the head of Parliament’s Commission on Foreign Relations, is the only one close to the government arguing that any settlement to the Syrian crisis will have to satisfy Russia’s traditional interests in that country.
Far from supporting such a view, Prime Minister Erdoğan has strongly criticized Moscow for backing the Syrian regime. Admitting that Russian interests in Syria have to be acknowledged would be out of tune with his expectations for the “New Syria.”
What Moscow expects to happen in Syria, however, is in turn out of tune with what Erdoğan appears to be expecting, namely an administration dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and which is dependent on Turkey.
Yet, what Lavrov is saying appears to be correct. It does look increasingly like there can be no winners in this sectarian war, which is only going to get messier with or without al-Assad. Closer cooperation, and not rivalry, between Ankara and Moscow would contribute to stability in a region of vital interest to both countries that is increasingly marked by chaos.