Russia’s choice and Syria

Russia’s choice and Syria

One of the key intelligence assesments which said the chain of command and the decision-making mechanisms in Soviet-ruled Moscow might have disintegrated came in the first days of 1991; more than a year before the Soviet Union officially declared itself disunited.

It was reported than that the assesment had been made in Tel Aviv by Israeli analysts and shared with the White House in Washington D.C., which was busy making the final touches of the Operation Desert Storm to start in hours. It was based on a statement by the last Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze; the former Georgian President after gaining independence from Russian Federation.

Shevardnadze had reacted to an ultimatom by U.S. President George Bush who asked Saddam Hussein to start pulling Iraqi armies from Kuwait at once, saying that the U.S.-led international coalition would start hitting otherwise.

The Israelis (according to information shared with the Turkish government at the time) were assuming that no superpower, or no power still claiming to a a super one, would try to stop the opponent’s move which was apparently at an irreversible stage; the Americans had been planning this operation for the last six months, some half a million troops had been deployed there, bringing the efforts of more than 20 nations together and the countdown had started. If you tried to stop it, you would be discredited and ignored; that was not typical Russian diplomacy and that was what exactly happened. American jets started to bomb Baghdad as Jan. 16 turned to Jan. 17.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement yesterday, as reported by Russia’s Ria Novosti Agency, is just the opposite of what Shevardnadze did 21 years ago and it shows that Moscow’s decision-making mechanisms are alive and kicking.

At the background there is a fierce diplomatic fight between the Americans and Russians over a possible United Nations resolution on Syria to force Bashar al-Assad to step down. And there is a statement by the U.S. State Department Spokesman Victoria Nuland who complained in despair that “Secretary (Hillary Clinton) frankly, has been trying to get Foreign Minister Lavrov on the phone for about 24 hours, That’s proven difficult.” 

In reply, Lavrov told Australian news channel ABC that Russia would fulfil signed deals to supply weapons to the Syrian authorities, but added that Russian weapons were not of a kind that could be used against demonstrators.

Loss of more lives in demonstrations in the hands of security forces and now clashes as well is a matter of concern for the Turkish leadership too; that is why President Abdullah Gül said on Jan. 30 that the end of Assad seemed inevitable, but should not be prolonged.

Then came the statement signalling the shift in Moscow’s months-old line regarding Syria, which was the only peg left to hold for Assad other than Iran: “Change of regimes is not our profession,” Lavrov said, referring to U.S. and its allies’ statements. But he added that Russia was “neither friend nor ally” of President Assad.

If Moscow has distanced itself from Assad, then the sound of Kalashnikovs that have started to be heard at the suburbs of Damascus could really start hurting Assad. Defeat might be at the gates now.

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