Time to Reset Russia’s Syrian Offense – by Amb. Marc Ginsberg
It’s high time to toss aside diplomatic niceties and place Russia in the diplomatic stockade, along with China and India for good measure (which are Russia’s fellow UN Security Council offenders), in its conspiracy to shelter the illegitimate Bashar al-Assad from global wrath. Pure and simple, the Kremlin’s ignoble efforts to « slow mo » any collective international action against the outlaw Syrian regime is, I regret to say, the diplomatic equivalent of facilitating felony murder. Moscow deservedly earns the indictment given Russia’s reckless racketeering on behalf of Assad’s regime as it transforms Syria into a free fire zone.
So where are the marches of outraged fraternal Arab allies on Russia’s Middle East diplomatic posts?
Under the cover of Vladimir Putin’s full court protection, Assad’s security forces have unleashed the bloodiest offensive yet against defenseless Syrians. Major Syrian cities are under indiscriminate tank and artillery fire, including the outskirts of Damascus, which had been under growing rebel control. By latest count over 6,500 Syrian civilians have died, and countless tens of thousands more have been tortured and wounded.
Assad has reverted full throttle to his father, Hafez’s « Hama Rules » 1982 playbook — surround Syrian cities and unleash a merciless barrage of indiscriminate fire power against any edifice in the crosshairs: homes, buildings, schools, hospitals, you name it no matter who and how many men, women and children are killed and wounded.
If Americans and the rest of the world could see for themselves what is now taking place in Syria’s restive cities, the media would be in a feeding frenzy demanding concerted international action against the perpetrators. Alas, if there is one thing Assad did right to save his regime, it was to deny the media independent access to Syria.
In 1982, the elder Assad massacred 20,000 of his own citizens. « Baby Doc » Bashar is nothing more than a crueler chip off the old block — who would have guessed that the once gentle ophthalmologist could muster the evilness to wreak such havoc on his population? Good tutoring from Putin and Ahmadinejad? At the rate the younger Assad is murdering his own people he just may exceed his father’s 1982 atrocity.
The Kremlin ordered its envoy to the UN Security Council to block a benign draft resolution proposed by Morocco on behalf of its fellow Arab League members to propose that Bashar al-Assad yield the Syrian presidency to his deputy and develop a transitional unity government that would organize elections within two months. The draft resolution has been so watered down as a sop to Russian sensitivities by its Arab and European sponsors that it neither calls for military action by Council members, much less additional economic sanctions. Yet Moscow has warned that the draft is « unacceptable » (aka veto bait).
Perhaps Prime Minister Putin should use this interregnum between Council meetings to reflect on the consequences of his actions. If Russia vetoes the resolution, which is a reasonable path to a political settlement inside Syria, it would constitute a vote against fundamental principles of the UN Charter and a good part of the democratic world should be outraged; but, knowing Putin, not surprised.
It may take longer, but Assad and his clique will eventually be gone — but at what cost to Syria’s future stability? An all-out civil war brought to us no less than by a callous Kremlin?
As I wrote in these pages last October, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution which merely « condemned » the violence committed by the Assad regime, portending Russia’s determination to shelter Assad from any pressure to make tangible concessions to his political opponents.
Russia has been the Assad family’s steadfast global « muscle » for over 50 years. Syria is one of the Kremlin’s most profitable arms purchasers (and as we speak Russian arms are pouring into Syria). But Putin has made a bad bet staying in bed with Assad. In the end, when Assad is brought before the World Court in the Hague, or is hunted down like Gaddafi, the Syrian people will not soon forget that it was Russia that enabled Assad’s killing fields.
Unfortunately, given the diplomatic squabble over a relatively toothless resolution the impending showdown in the Security Council will not produce a decisive plan to force Assad’s finger off the trigger. It will take the leadership of the Arab League’s key players, along with Turkey, to lay the groundwork for something more than what the Russians will abide by.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stated that it was his government’s goal to facilitate an internal Syrian solution without outside military intervention. So why is Russia rushing more and more arms to Syria — if that is not military intervention by design, what is? If he is to be believed, the U.S., Europe and their Arab allies should keep the Security Council in round the clock session until hell freezes over (to coin a historic demarche made by then U.S. envoy to the U.N. Adlai Stevenson during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis) to force Russia into accepting a resolution that paves the way for that very internal solution the Russians claim they support.
That, at the very least, is what it has come down to at the UN when dealing with Assad’s atrocities and may be the last best chance to avert an even bloodier and dangerous civil war inside Syria that would spill over throughout the region.
P.S. Memo to the White House: The Kremlin is acting at the UN and bilaterally as if there was no reset in relations. Further Russian arms shipments to Syria as long as the violence escalates is like pouring fuel on an escalating fire. It is outrageous and the Russians should be called out on the continuing arms transfers to Assad. Time to get that button out again.
Amb. Marc Ginsberg
Former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco