Who indeed are the sides?
Before trying to understand Russia’s vow to veto any “unacceptable” proposal at the United Nations Security Council, it might be important to look back at how the Libya operation of NATO became possible.
The Libya resolution was adopted after intense diplomacy and it specifically underlined that there would be no military intervention beyond the protection of the civilian population. After the Security Council resolution adopted the Libya resolution, with Russia and China abstaining, it took only a week or so for the NATO alliance to start attacking Colonel Gadhafi’s forces. This changed the balance of power and helped the “rebels” take over the country. The military operation became possible because the U.N. resolution did not clearly state how the civilian population would be protected, and NATO used obscure wording as a pretext to bombarding Gadhafi forces.
Libya and Syria are, of course, two different countries. In Libya there was a coalition of rebel elements which did not have a proper military, but wished to overthrow a brutal dictatorial regime. The country was composed of clans and the fight for power was between these clans; freedom, democracy and such other rhetoric was as important as a whisper in thin air, as was demonstrated by the brutal lynching of Gadhafi after he was captured. In Syria there is a brutal dictatorial regime, too. But, unlike Libya, Syria has a very strong state tradition and a properly organized and strong military. It has an enhanced intelligence network – perhaps it is one of the most organized police states of the world – and the opposition is scattered, the only fighting power of the rebels being deserters from the regime, most of whom are suspected to have been bought out by “friendly” outside powers. In addition, besides a very strong feudal social setup, Syrian society is deeply divided along ethnic and more importantly, religious and sectarian lines. Thus, an operation in Syria may not be as easy and as successful as the operation on Libya.
Now, if Russia and China are acting with the awareness that they were “deceived” in the Libya resolution – that now they would not accept any obscure wording which may be interpreted as military intervention; and that it is none of the business of the Security Council to decide on the future of who should and should not be in positions of power in regimes or countries – that should be a position appreciated and applauded. Anyway, a military intervention will not finish the Syria crisis but further deepen it and make it a regional sectarian war.
Furthermore, Russia as well as China, for some rather sound reasons, are very much concerned that the “spring” movements in Arab streets might be part of a Western conspiracy to dominate the Middle East.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said everyone needed to answer the question: “Whose side you are on?” Is everyone required to make a choice between a brutal dictatorial regime and the Syrian people? Are the parties of this “conflict” indeed the Syrian regime and the people?
Who, indeed, are the sides?