Syria: Last-ditch efforts
Dismayed by the Russian and Chinese veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution supporting an Arab League call for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to step down, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to express Turkey’s deep displeasure over the Russian veto and to tell him that the bloodshed in Syria should be stopped urgently.
Furthermore, according to the Turkish Prime Ministry, Erdoğan stressed that the al-Assad government had lost its legitimacy and its credibility.
That is, according to what was leaked or officially disclosed, Erdoğan explained to Medvedev that Ankara was not happy at all with Russia using its veto power, along with China of course, to prevent the Security Council from adopting a resolution that might help change the balance of power in Syria in favor of the rebels – very much like what the U.N. resolution achieved in Libya.
According to what’s being officially said or leaked to the media from Moscow, on the other hand, the Russian president made clear in the conversation that the search for a solution to the crisis in Syria must continue, including in the Security Council, but “foreign interference was not an option.” According to the Kremlin, the West should not only try to avoid “hasty unilateral moves” toward Syria but at the same time adopt a “balanced and objective” attitude toward the Syrian government and the rebels.
Irrespective of how official Turkey interpreted the premier’s discussion on the phone with the Russian president, it was clear from Moscow’s statements that Russia has not given up hope that the Syria crisis is still “resolvable” through “national dialogue” and with al-Assad remaining in power.
Similarly, various reports on Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s trip to Damascus underline that both Moscow and al-Assad believed that last November’s Arab League proposal that called for dialogue and other measures – not to a January plan that called for al-Assad to cede power – could still help stabilize Syria.
Reading between the lines of a pile of rather confusing reports on the Erdoğan-Medvedev conversation and Lavrov’s talk with al-Assad, it becomes obvious that he asked Erdoğan and other Western leaders elsewhere to use their clout to convince both al-Assad and the rebel Free Syrian Army to engage in meaningful and probably proxy negotiations aimed at reaching a compromise resolution along the lines of the Arab League’s November plan.
Yes, with crucial presidential polls looming in March, a macho image standing against the entire West fits well for Vladimir Putin. Al-Assad’s Syria accounts for 10 percent of Russia’s arms sales to the Middle East and Russia has probably placed its own interests before anything else. But more than anything else, Russia has been trying its best to prevent a repeat of the “Libya cheating” in Syria, fearing local repercussions and of course regional consequences.
Still, if al-Assad fails to grasp this last Russian lifeline or if rebels refuse to engage in an exercise of compromise with the al-Assad regime, that will be the end of diplomacy. At that point, the future won’t just be bleak for Syria, but others as well.