The question that is being asked in Geneva today, as well as many other major capitals, is: what is the expected outcome of Russia’s deliberate escalation and complication with regards to reaching an international decision to resolve the situation in Syria?
Is Moscow making things harder in order to trade in Syria for political and economic gains? Or is Russia truly committed to protecting the Bashar al-Assad regime and preventing any international resolution, whatever the cost?
There is also a third view, namely that Moscow wants guarantees regarding the future regime that will seek to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of the Bashar al-Assad regime. This alternative regime must meet 3 vital conditions:
Firstly, it must not be an extremist Islamist regime.
Secondly, it must pledge to continue to import Russian arms.
Thirdly, it must pledge to continue to provide the Russian navy with access to the Mediterranean Sea, which is an ancient Russian dream only achieved recently.
Russia’s position on Syria may be a combination of these three possibilities, and from here we can understand the role being played by the Russian delegation in escalating the situation to the brink of the abyss. This is a move that is threatening the Geneva negotiations being led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is also acting as joint-UN – Arab League special envoy to Syria.
Kofi Annan, a patient and well-experienced diplomat, is seeking to establish a suitable formula that will satisfy Moscow and not incite Russian intransigence.
The crisis created by escalating the situation to the “the edge of the abyss” in the negotiations is restricted by a number of conditions, most importantly finding out how and when Russia will resort to this.
Such escalation may ultimately destroy the negotiations and push the situation to a point of no return.
Personally, I do not believe that Moscow is escalating the Syrian file out of reasons of principle but rather because it has not received the right price to refrain from doing so.