By Paul Koring, Globe and Mail, February 13, 2012
As the carnage in Syria worsened, Russia signaled a new-found willingness Monday to consider international intervention while the world’s nations planned a United Nations vote aimed at exposing the inaction of the great powers.
Syrian guns pounded anti-government strongholds in the opposition stronghold of Homs and the Arab League called for UN blue helmets to “to supervise implementation of a cease-fire.”
In Moscow, the shift indicated Russia was moving from defending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its primary Arab ally, to managing a transition.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia, “together with other permanent members of the UN Security Council, (is) ready to promote the dialogue and an agreement.”
After twice vetoing Security Council resolutions condemning the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors by forces loyal to Mr. Assad, Russia may be abandoning its absolute defence of the Syrian regime.
But Russia’s call for a ceasefire prior to any conference could prove impossible to achieve.
Meanwhile, in the General Assembly at the UN in New York, the world’s nations were planning to vote Monday on a resolution condemning Syria. Unlike the Security Council, where any of the five veto-wielding permanent members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – can block any resolution, only a simply majority is needed in the 193-nation General Assembly. A vote is expected later this week.
But General Assembly resolutions lack the legally-binding force of the Security Council and can’t – for instance – be used to authorize military intervention.
An overwhelming majority vote, however, especially if it included strong backing from other Arab states of the resolution proposed by Saudi Arabia, would exert pressure on Russia and the other great powers to intervene, or at least, jointly condemn the Syrian brutality.
“What is happening in Syria leaves no doubt that it is not ethnic or sectarian war or urban warfare,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. “It is a campaign of mass cleansing to punish the Syrian people and enforce the regime’s authority.”
In response to Mr. Lavrov, it is very difficult to start a conversation between to parties both armed and firing at each other. What has happened between the Security Council vote and yesterday, to the Russian veto position? Have they reconnoitred that their standing in the Middle East could be damaged even further by remaining obstructionist to the Security Council? Have they decided that they want a position separate and apart from the one chosen by China, in this conflict? Have the Russians decided that the link betweeen Iran and Syria is so open and public, enmeshed as it is also with Hezbollah, (the likely perpetrator under Iran's agency of the car bombing in India of an Israeli diplomat's car and another attempt with a similar target yesterday in Georgia) and so toxic that they wish to establish some distance from that inferno, without impairing any commercial relationship with Iran, or potentially cutting off arms sales to Syria? Have the Russians somehow brought into their viewfinder the protests on the streets of Moscow by Russians seeking free and fair elections next month, as one of the variables in their calculus about warding off outside interference in their domestic politics? Does Putin suddenly see some co-relation between the protests in the Middle East and those in his own country, and has that co-relation brought some sense into his political calculations?
Whatever the motive, Russia's change of heart, if it is real, could not come too quickly, especially for those Syrians being slaughtered by their own government, and imprisoned by that same government.