Before Russia and China vetoed the Arab-Western UN Security Council resolution on the Syrian situation, [Russia] had already put into motion an alternative plan involving a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the head of Russian intelligence to Damascus on Tuesday [February 7]. Russia had already made the decision to block the UN resolution and [further extend its help to] the Syrian regime despite the substantial draft changes [to the resolution] that were meant to address Russia's reservations. [These developments] raise a few questions: What will happen after the international community's failure to stop the killing of the Syrian people? And, does this failure mean, as many seem to think, that the Syrian crisis is moving towards civil war?
It seems that the Russians have used [the scenario of civil war] as an excuse to reject the UN resolution. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced the West’s contrasting point of view. [The West] sees the [blocking the resolution], which was meant to voice international consensus in order to halt the violence, as opening the way for civil war. [And violent conflict] has become all the more likely in light of [the massacres] that took place last week in Homs and other Syrian cities.
In order to avoid being held responsible for any negative developments [in Syria] and to avoid being charged with causing a vacuum by blocking international and Arab efforts to stop the violence in Syria, Russia quickly and proactively - even before voting on the Security Council draft resolution - delineated an alternative track. However if the violence continues, the next Arab summit, which is expected to be held on February 11, will push for further action against the Syrian regime. At this point, the Arabs have exhausted all of their peaceful proposals such as the "[Arab] action plan" and the "[Arab] road map," which is still on the table.
In consequence, all attention is now turned to the visit [to Damascus] by Lavrov and the head of Russian intelligence. [The world is waiting] to see if the Russians will succeed where international and regional efforts - i.e. the Turkish and Arab efforts - have failed. [Previous efforts] have failed to end the Syrian regime's violence, and they failed to convince it to enact anything more than cosmetic reforms. Indeed, real reforms will mean the end of the regime. Until now, the regime has tried to salvage what it can. Now, it is Russia - along with China - that has assumed the burden of responsibility in the eyes of the international community and Arab public opinion. [For the public, it is now clear that] if the regime can continue to kill, it is because Russia has been protecting it.
The Russian veto - called so because the Chinese would not have used the veto on their own - did not simply block an American or European proposal - it impeded an Arab action plan for a peaceful transition in Syria. Therefore, in effect, Russia marginalized and weakened the Arab countries' influence and took their place as the peacemaker in Syria.
It is no secret that many have been watching the Russians closely since last autumn when the Russians first exercised their veto on the Syrian conflict. [Through this first veto] Russia revealed that it wields leverage over the Syrian regime through the international cover that it provides. The Arabs previously put forth an initiative which Russia supported, and which it tried to persuade the Syrian regime. [The initiative] was followed by an Arab action plan which sought a peaceful resolution to the matter by asking [Bashar al-Assad] to transfer his powers to the vice president. But Russia did not welcome this move.
Given the intensifying domestic opposition to the prospect that he will be reelected Russian president, many believe that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is now grounding his March electoral campaign on Russian foreign policy. If he is able to cool the violence in Syria, it may help him overcome certain objections that might be raised against his reelection, especially if the upcoming elections are as mired by suspicions of fraud as last December’s contest.
Will the Syrian regime offer Russia something that increases its influence and protects it from the wrath of Arab public opinion and the blame of international community for any new massacres? Or will the Syrian regime disappoint Russia just like it did the Turks and the Arabs, which held dialogues with the regime at the beginning of the crisis? Let us keep in mind that if the Syrian regime accepts a peace initiative, it will not mean that Russia has gained full control of the Syrian crisis. The Syrian opposition objects to Russia’s protection of the regime and holds it responsible for the large number of Syrian casualties.
Many are questioning whether Russia’s seeming return to a Cold-War type of relationship with the United States and the West - a belief that stems from its position on the Arab-Western proposal for the Syrian issue - will be limited to political matters, or whether these relations will devolve into something worse. Russia continues to reject an arms embargo on Syria. It has sent cargo ships [ostentibly loaded with arms] to the Syrian regime, and many see that as an on-the-ground manifestation of the Cold War and a complement to what has occred within the halls of the UN Security Council.