Turkey Pulse

Moscow, Beijing Give Assad Green Light

Article Summary
Russia and China have used their vetoes to intervene on Assad’s behalf, prolonging the Syrian crisis and potentially increasing the odds of civil war. The news could not be worse for Ankara, and Turkish intervention - whether alone or alongside Western allies - can no longer be ruled out, writes Semih Idiz.

Some in this country have hailed the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the Security Council, saying “Good for them - they foiled the Western plot.”

Nevertheless, these two countries have also sent a message to Bashar al-Assad to continue killing, and indicating that they support him. Moreover, the Syrian opposition - which has been steadily accumulating weapons - has gotten the message that as long as no assistance is forthcoming, they should proceed as they see fit.

Developments in Syria since the veto show that both sides have gotten the messages. Russia and China, by vetoing an already-emasculated resolution,  have accelerated the dynamics dragging Syria towards civil war. There can be no worse outcome for Ankara.

That things have gotten to this point exposes once again the fact that there is no mechanism of international pressure capable of halting the violence in Syria through legal channels. If these developments reach the magnitude of seriously threatening Turkey, we cannot dismiss the possibility that Ankara may have to intervene in Syria, either unilaterally or in concert with Western allies.

What was in the resolution, also supported by Turkey, that prompted Russia and China to veto it? The resolution did not even call for an economic embargo, let alone military intervention. The draft resolution called on all parties to immediately end violence and for a transition to democratic government, without threatening sanctions if Syria failed to comply.

Russia and China actually reacted to a draft resolution that did not call for sanctions but simply for a halt to violence and transition to democracy. There could not be a better gift to Assad at this point.

Some say Russia used its veto because “the opposition wasn’t blamed enough” and because it called for “regime change in Syria.” Since the draft called for all parties to halt violence,  what really bothered Russia and China must be the call for a democratic order - that is, for regime change.

These calls also form the basis of Turkey’s current Syria policy. We understand that democracy is a concept that Russia and China are not comfortable with in their internal and external policies.

No matter what is behind the veto, we see that Syria is a Russian satellite and that the region is heading toward a Cold War environment. Russia, which has not been supportive of the Arab Spring, is putting up its guard to preserve its strategic interests in view of regional developments.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is going to Damascus tomorrow. We do not know what he will counsel Assad behind closed doors, but it is a sure thing that in front of the cameras Lavrov will express solidarity with Damascus.

Ankara - whose relations with Iran and Iraq have become turbulent over [the situation in] Syria - will be closely monitoring Lavrov’s visit, as relations [between Turkey and] Russia could also sour [as a result of events in Syria].

Another set of developments Ankara will have to keep a careful eye on are those in from France. Sarkozy is now saying, “This is not going to work with the UN. Let’s form a group of ‘Friends of Syria’ made up of willing countries.”

As in Libya, we have to assume that this initiative could conceal a military dimension that would be problematic for Turkey. Moreover, the fact that France is leading this initiative is already disturbing to Turkey for obvious reasons.

Should Sarkozy’s initiative gain traction, Turkey will again be faced with tough choices, as it did in Iraq in 2003 and then in Libya [in 2011].  In short, Turkey’s Syria headache is not going away any time soon.

Found in: sarkozy, russia, france, china

Semih Idiz is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. He is a journalist who has been covering diplomacy and foreign policy issues for major Turkish newspapers for 30 years. His opinion pieces can be followed in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News. His articles have also been published in The Financial Times, The Times of London, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy magazine.


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