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Russia-US crisis may soon spread to Near East

Despite a likely win for US-Russia cooperation on eliminating Syria's chemical weapons, the provision of anti-tank weapons by the United States and its allies to moderate Syrian opposition forces will only destabilize Syria further, in Moscow's view.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) looks on as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd R) starts a quadrilateral meeting in Geneva, between representatives of the U.S., Ukraine, Russia and the European Union about the ongoing situation in Ukraine April 17, 2014.    REUTERS/Jim Bourg  (SWITZERLAND - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR3LN59

It seems that the tendency toward a needless exacerbation of US-Russian relations, which started with the crisis in Ukraine, has now begun to spread to the Near East as well. This time the area of confrontation has become Syria. The Russian-US “honeymoon,” more precisely the time allotted for eliminating the Syrian chemical arsenal, will soon be over and all signs indicate that the plan will be fulfilled as agreed. But proposed Geneva III talks have clearly lost traction. Fierce fighting among the members of the Syrian opposition has severely hurt their potential and the chances of even a minimal agreement between those who are generally considered to be the moderate opposition (although the assessments of Moscow and Washington differ here in some respects). According to Yezid Sayigh, “The National Coalition’s reprieve during the Geneva talks also momentarily masked the extent of its incapacitation by renewed Saudi-Qatari competition for influence over the Syrian opposition.” Meanwhile, the designation by Riyadh of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization dealt a serious blow to this organization’s standing in Syria, where it plays a major role in both the National Coalition and the Syrian National Council, that is to say, the very organizations that most of the world community regards as moderate.

Leaders of the diverse organizations forming the Syrian opposition have long asked the West for supply of modern antitank and anti-aircraft weapons to turn the tide in the war against President Bashar al-Assad. In the course of a series of recent meetings in Moscow with officials (such as Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov), experts and journalists, a group of Syrian oppositionists presented their “charter for democratic reform,” which in one way or another came down to discussing the need to arm the rebel groups with modern weapons to resolve the crisis. Moscow, as is known, is against this method of resolving the crisis. For the time being, Western governments, above all the United States, have withstood intensive lobbying by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to arm the rebels with such dangerous weapons systems, primarily out of fear that the arms may end up in the wrong hands. The experience of Afghanistan — where the mujahedeen turned the weapons they received against the very people who had given them — had not been forgotten.

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