Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Moscow’s advice for al-Assad | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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After the outcomes of the Friends of Syria conference in Istanbul, Moscow’s official position, criticizing its results, was no different from its previous positions taken with regards to the crisis in Syria, including its obstruction, along with China, of Western and Arab resolutions in the UN Security Council.

However, the criticism revealed a new attitude that is worthy of consideration, and that the Syrian regime needs to pay attention to. This is Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s call for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to take the initiative by being the first to withdraw his troops from Syrian cities, thus taking the first step, followed quickly by the opposition withdrawing its forces as well.

This development came after a week of political drama on the part of the Syrian regime, which initially accepted UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan’s proposals, who presented his report yesterday to the Security Council, but then the regime returned and asked to negotiate the terms for implementing Annan’s six-point plan, which includes the withdrawal of troops from cities, saying that the regime’s forces would only withdraw when matters calm down in these cities and stability is restored. Annan’s spokesman responded to the regime’s comments by saying that the stronger party should be the one to initiate, and thus the implementation of the plan must be immediate.

It was clear that the regime was stalling and continuing with its policy that it has pursued since the beginning of the crisis, namely announcing its acceptance of initiatives – as happened previously with the Arab initiative – then aborting them and procrastinating in order to buy time, in the hope of aborting the revolution and eliminating it so that there is no longer anything to negotiate about.

This policy has wasted a lot of time, whilst the bloodshed, devastation and destruction that we see now in the stricken, uprising Syrian cities have doubled. Likewise, the regime has lost all sympathy or credibility even among its former allies or friends who have grown tired of this game that clearly will not lead to anything except the expansion of the river of blood.

The new Russian position shows that Moscow, which responded positively to the Arab plan and then Annan’s plan, has begun to tire of the Syrian regime’s policies, as it is clear that al-Assad is unable to see any solution other than the security solution, and cannot imagine (for one reason or another) a political solution. He knows that the certain result of this would be regime change or at least a change in the leadership structure in the transitional period.

This position shows that Russia is growing tired of the Syrian regime’s stances, and that it feels the size of the international and regional pressure it is facing, because it is providing the regime with an umbrella to protect it from legitimacy, and realizes that it cannot continue doing so for long.

The question is: Will the regime understand the advice (and withdraw its forces first) that came this time from an ally? All evidence indicates that the regime is incapable of doing so, as always it is counting on the use of force, a policy that will effectively lead to the militarization of the Syrian revolution, and the international community accepting the opposition’s right to defend itself despite being against this for so long, for fears of a civil war.

For their part, the Syrian opposition – whether through the statements of the Free Syrian Army or the political opposition – has shown its readiness to stop fighting if the regime’s forces stop bombarding and storming Syrian cities, and therefore it does not have a problem with implementing the second part of the Russian request.

The real problem lies with the regime that has dug itself into a deep hole and cannot get out. After using massive amounts of force against a revolution that continued peacefully for many months, the regime realizes that withdrawing from the cities will mean that intense peaceful demonstrations will begin once again, and the key squares in Damascus and other major cities may be occupied. This would mean a return to the peaceful nature of the revolution and renewed calls for the overthrow of the regime, which al-Assad has tried hard to stop with his military and with talk of armed gangs.

Regarding Moscow’s advice or request for the Syrian regime to withdraw its troops first, I appeal to any sane or concerned voices within the regime who believe that al-Assad is fighting a losing battle, and cannot rely on you to stand by him for much longer, to think about what you are doing, and consider jumping from the sinking ship!