To Solve Syria, Understand Russia

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Article Summary
As Russia remains dead set against imposing regime change in Syria, Erdal Safak explains that the justifications for its position are based on an principle that no one can object to: Since a foreign country didn't elect Assad president, a foreign country can't unseat him.

Let’s agree on the hard reality. Without Russia’s support or at least its go-ahead, finding a solution to the Syria crisis within the bounds of international law is extremely difficult. By a solution within international law, I mean one under the umbrella of the United Nations Security Council.

So far, Russia has blocked all initiatives and resolutions in the Security Council. It justified its vetoes with one rationale: changing a regime through armed intervention from the outside would violate the principles of international law.

Of course, the bitter lessons from Libya have played an important part in the rigid Russian attitude.

There's also a hidden reason: a belief that you shouldn't sell out your friends.

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Since the Syrian crisis began, anyone who went to Moscow to discuss the situation returned with the same answers and impressions:

  • If we abandon the Syrian Baath regime, no country will ally with Russia in the future, because we will be seen as an unreliable state that abandons friends.
  • Syria is the only country where Russia has a military base. We cannot give up a base in such a critical region and ignore our strategic ties with Damascus.
  • Nobody has a concrete vision of a post-Assad era. (It's true that none of the Western countries can give a clear and convincing answer to three simple questions: When will the Syrian regime collapse? How it will collapse? What will happen afterwards?)
  • Russia’s vital interests in Middle East will be endangered if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over in Syria.
  • Finally, no country in the world, no matter how big, strong and influential, has the right to topple a regime it doesn’t like. Our policy isn't to do with Assad, but rather a matter of respecting a principle. Those who today try to change the regime in Syria might try the same in Russia tomorrow.

All these justifications are wrapped in an principle that nobody can object to. Only the Syrian people can decide whether Assad goes or stays. Since a foreign country didn't elect Assad president, a foreign country can't unseat him.

That’s fine. But what is Russia's proposed solution? It’s simple: implement the plan agreed to in Geneva on June 30. The Geneva Declaration was put together by previous UN envoy Kofi Annan before he quit.

It has been reported that Annan's successor, Lakhdar Brahimi, will base his proposed solution on the Geneva Declaration. If Brahimi really cites the Geneva accord as the solution, that will strengthen Russia’s hand.

That's why all parties should take the “Eid el-Adha holiday ceasefire” appeal — which will be made by Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and the Arab League — as an opportunity to think hard again.

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Found in: vladimir putin, syrian, russian, kofi annan
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