Syrian Conflict Reaches Stalemate

The Syrian conflict seems to have reached a stalemate and the major powers have decided to sit back and wait for the balance of power to change on the ground, Ziad Haydar writes.

al-monitor A man walks past damaged houses on a street filled with debris in Deir al-Zour, April 1, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/ Khalil Ashawi.

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us intervention in syria, us, syrian, russian

Apr 2, 2013

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent a message to the BRICS group, which met last week. He called on them to “help end the violence in Syria immediately,” thus imparting a political role to the emerging international group. Things in Syria are at a standstill politically with regard to the “major players” and very active with regard to the “minor players.” It is a standstill that helps achieve short- and medium-range objectives, none of which serve Syria’s long-term interests.

In his letter, Assad called on the BRICS countries to “work together for an immediate halt to the violence in Syria in order to ensure the success of a political solution, which requires a clear international will as well as the draining of the sources of terrorism and the stopping of their funding and arming. ...The Syrian people look forward to working with the BRICS as a power that seeks to promote peace, security and cooperation among nations, away from domination, dictates and injustice, which were used for decades on our people and nation.”

The letter comes after Syrian presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban visited both India and South Africa in March, and a similar trip by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad to Brazil, China and Russia, where he tried to obtain clear support from those countries.

Since the BRICS group was formed in the last decade, it has represented for Damascus a counterweight to the US-led Western axis, which controls and influences international and regional organizations. The BRICS group tends to not interfere in the internal affairs of other states or in civil wars. That became apparent during the Libyan crisis when the BRICS group opposed Western intervention without being able to prevent it, which weakened the BRICS influence. Damascus wishes to see that influence grow.

In international forums, the BRICS group is consistent with Russian policy, which supports the Geneva Accord signed last June, and prefers avoiding direct intervention. Diplomats and observers have noted that Russia’s role, despite its continuity and persistence, seems less aggressive. That may be because of the escalation by France and Britain — with US approval — to change the Syrian balance of power on the ground, something being pushed by Qatar and Turkey as was apparent in the Arab summit in Doha.

Russia is apparently waiting for a change in the balance of power in the Syrian opposition. Russian diplomats think that the opposition is being held together by external forces, without which it would quickly disintegrate. But nobody in Damascus knows what will be the next step or has put forth a vision. The Russians are sitting back and waiting for their opponents to “fail.” Moscow is convinced that neither side is able to achieve a decisive victory and that 50 mortar rounds on Damascus per week means that the conflict is taking a new dimension of brutality. That also means that both sides are losing.

Russian policy is not exactly like that of Damascus. The Syrian leadership has not accepted the Geneva Accord without reservation but considers it worthy of “discussion.” So matters will be decided by the developments on the ground. A Syrian oppositionist said to As-Safir that “there will be a military and political escalation that reaches its peak in two months.” The Syrian oppositionist residing in Damascus said that the escalation is fully consistent with the US desire to “completely weaken Syria and take it out of the regional strategic plan for decades.”

In this context, it is remarkable that the Russian military has kept its battleship in Beirut, even though two weeks ago its destination was Tartous. Russian diplomatic sources told As-Safir that “this is something normal. It is a routine measure designed to deepen the friendly relations and cooperation between Lebanon and Russia,” and that this matter has nothing to do with the discovery of an electronic spy system on the Syrian coast, believed to be Israeli, or that it is part of Russian military moves.

Diplomats acknowledge that amid the deadlock, there are clear Qatari and Turkish preparations for the day after the regime falls, if it does fall. The two conferences in Cairo and Istanbul were part of those preparations. The first conference wanted to showcase the presence of Alawites in the opposition. The second conference was attended by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and was aimed at Syria’s Turkmen.

The conferences wanted to narrow the differences between the “resigned” leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces Moaz al-Khatib and some of the coaltion’s blocs over increasing the representation of Syrian minorities and expanding the opposition structure. The Americans and the Russians agree that Khatib “is irreplaceable as a leader of the opposition” and seek to keep him in place, especially in face of the rising Islamist militants in the opposition and the rising Muslim Brotherhood movement worldwide.

The Qatari and Turkish effort is also part of “the day after” plan, which has started considering “sectarian quotas” similar to those in Iraq and Lebanon.

All that recalls what happened in the summer of 2011, when official Turkish delegates asked Damascus about its “informal” opinion regarding sectarian quotas, whereby the key military centers will be held by the Christian and Muslim minorities and the bigger sects be given the primary role in the economy and political process. The vision included the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood will return to Syria. But those ideas were immediately rejected at the time.

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