US, Russian Election Seasons Dictate Involvement in Syrian Crisis

Article Summary
According to Zuhayr Quaybati, Russian PM Vladimir Putin’s rejection of military action or increased sanctions against either Syria or Iran is driven by his desire to project an image of a power in the run-up to Russia’s presidential elections. Meanwhile, Obama is facing similar constraints prior to his re-election campaign.

Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin - who will make a powerful comeback in a few weeks - has made up his mind, exciting the dreams of a vast majority of Russians who have had enough of the West’s “orders” and who wish to see their country again become the superpower it once was. Putin has come down decisively against [foreign military intervention] in Syria and Iran. [He has done so] not only to avoid losing his last two allies in the Middle East, but also to use them as platforms to weather the storms of the “Arab Spring” and ensure that they do not hit closer to home.

Putin’s [rejections] - announced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov - put Syria and Iran on the same plane by treating both as victims of the West’s “ill intentions.” [Putin drew lines on three issues]: “No” to sanctions, “No” to a military option against Tehran, and “No” to a military intervention in Damascus’ internal affairs. Russia’s assertive [rejections] reflect the renewed failure of US and European efforts to obtain a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian regime. It is now [increasingly] unlikely that this will happen anytime soon. The Kremlin warned against the “catastrophic” [consequences] of a strike on Iran, claiming that all [possible] scenarios [related to this issue] are being [discussed] outside of the UN Security Council anyway - Israel will not ask for permission [if it decides] to strike at Iranian nuclear facilities. Moreover, Washington will need an international umbrella to confront Iran over [a potential blockade of] the Strait of Hormuz.

Lavrov ignored the topic of Sunni-Shia strife in the region, and made no reference to the fact that a military strike against Iran could fan the flames [of conflict] from Iraq to the Gulf.

The escalation of [Russia’s rhetoric] towards the West, and the return of Cold War-era tensions between Moscow and its so-called imperialist “associates” must be analyzed against the backdrop of Putin’s upcoming candidacy in [Russian] presidential elections. For its part, Washington has cooled down its confrontation with Iran and has recently only expressed [verbal] rejections of the level of violence in Syria. This reflects caution on the part of President Barack Obama, who is entering an election year in which he may lose his chance to remain in the White House. Tehran is thus aware that the equation has changed regarding a [potential] US attack on its soil. [It faces a different set of considerations] regarding the scenario of dragging the Americans into a limited confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz - the [main] oil lifeline [in the region]. Washington is also aware that closing the strait would have unpredictable consequences for both [nations]. Obama would not be able to consider [such a scenario] for fear of further entanglement. [For his part], Khamenei would be incapable of deterring a NATO response or a strike against Iran’s arsenal and nuclear facilities.
Even the government of Nouri al-Maliki - Tehran’s ally - appeared terrified at the idea that its oil exports lifeline might be closed. However, it is clear that the US and its European allies differ in their analyses of [a conflict in the strait of Hormuz]. [The Europeans] are very nervous about the potential consequences of an embargo on Iranian oil. Tehran will certainly make use of this [to discuss a possible] renewal of talks with the West over its nuclear program. It will call for new meetings in Istanbul as a carrot [incentive] to lure restive [states] into further dialogue - although most of them realize that [these talks] will be useless.

[Therefore, the situation does not appear to have changed], unless Russia’s concerns turn out to be true and the West is seeking to besiege Iran's economy in order to kindle a fire of uprising within it and destabilize the regime. There is no doubt that the [Russian] regime is worried about the upcoming parliamentary elections in March, and that it sees them as a serious test to [its ability to] weather the storms of the “Arab Spring.” The [same old] claims about a “conspiracy” [against the Arab dictators] will [certainly] be uttered once more.

It seems that the Syrian tragedy will continue despite [the growing number of] martyrs and witnesses. Everyone [in Syria] is trapped in an endless tunnel. The political machine is dysfunctional and the killing machine never stops. The Russian naval fleet’s presence did not strengthen the grip of the [Syrian] regime [over its people]. The [Arab League] observers did not raise hopes for the Arabization of the crisis. The opposition’s disorganization does not signal an impending settlement. Finally, the increasing militarization of the confrontation is paralleled by the danger of playing on sectarian [sentiment].

The opposition cannot count on an exit [to the crisis] that will be agreeable to all members of the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, the Chinese - at least - were wise enough to see a security improvement in Syria, and are thus [exerting some kind of] pressure on the Arab League. But will the regime try to elicit a routine extension of the Arab League’s observer [mission]? The regime certainly understands that [the adoption of] any international resolution that condemns violence and repression [in Syria] - even from the UN Security Council - will not be decisive enough to undermine its ability to face the realities in the street. But who can predict what surprises [may arise] in the street? [Developments in the Syrian street] cannot be adjusted according to considerations pertaining to the US [presidential] elections or Obama's ambitions, nor to Putin’s dreams of reviving the influence of the [former Soviet] superpower.

In the Syrian tragedy, [all sides] appear to have lost room to maneuver, along with their ability escape from the trenches of conspiracy and bloodshed.

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