Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: What’s Cooking in Moscow? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55338938

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallem (3rd L) speaks to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (3rd R) during a meeting in Sochi on November 26, 2014. (Reuters/Mihail Metzel)

Within the next few days, Moscow will host a “dialogue” to discuss the shape of a forthcoming conference. Any conference to carry out “dialogue” on Syria sounds like a good idea to me.

It is also a good idea that this will be taking place in the presence of a “mediator-cum-sponsor” since any honest attempt at relieving the suffering of the Syrian people is more than welcome.

The problem, however, is that as we count down to the start of this conference, things are not really as rosy as they seem.

To begin with, the “mediator” or “sponsor” in question—which is also claiming that these discussions will be built on the Geneva Communique—is actually a strategic ally of the Assad regime in Syria. Russia has never stopped supplying the regime’s war machine with all the weapons that it needed since the beginning of the popular uprising on March 15, 2011. Then, along with China, its silent partner, it used its Security Council “veto” on three separate occasions to block any UN condemnation of the Assad regime or put an end to its genocide against civilians, including its use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons.

Furthermore, since the Geneva I talks, this “pseudo mediator” has outright rejected the Syrian opposition view that it would be impossible to start a transitional stage while Assad and his cronies remain in power, free to continue killing their own people and uprooting and displacing them to the extent that the Syrian refugee crisis is now one of the worst in recent history. Not only that, but Moscow has doggedly turned the argument of a Syrian “popular uprising” on its head by insisting that what has been taking place in Syria is nothing but an “Islamist terrorist conspiracy” against Syria and its regime; ignoring the fact that the popular uprising that started in March 2011 remained peaceful for at least 8 months only to be confronted by massacres and sectarian cleansing.

As for the Syrian opposition itself which Moscow has invited to take part in the proposed conference, Russia has already decided the limits and ceiling of any dialogue. Not satisfied with rejecting any discussion of a transition without Assad and his security apparatus, Russia has practically voided any recognition of the opposition’s representative status. For a start it handpicked the invited opposition figures, and while the regime has been invited as the “legitimate government,” opposition figures have been invited as individuals, not as a recognized group, which implicitly means that Russia does not recognize any opposition organization.

Last but not least, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has openly warned the opposition figures lucky enough to be invited, that they must show up as non-attendance would “weaken” their negotiating position!

From the above, it seems that the Moscow conference has two aims: Firstly, to divide and then destroy the Syrian opposition by playing on its different priorities given its broad and diverse nature; Secondly, “cornering” it in front of the world and portraying it as the obstacle hindering any move towards peace while the regime not only plays by the rules, but is a “virtual ally” in the war against the “takfirist terrorism” as represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al-Qaeda and the Al-Nusra Front et al. With this particular issue in mind, Moscow is not only giving credibility to the regime’s narrative, but is also covering up its own conspiracy against the Syrian uprising, as well as covering up the “change” in the position of the Barack Obama administration towards the Syrian debacle, or rather the “truth” about this position.

Indeed, Moscow is engaged in an open war against the Syrian opposition. Its conference has nothing to do with dialogue whatsoever, as this is nothing but a maneuver to destroy the opposition, exploiting a strong global mood against extremist groups committing atrocities under the banners of Islam. The Charlie Hebdo outrage came just in time to highlight the international community’s political and security priorities.

No doubt fighting ISIS and Al-Qaeda-style terrorism is now rightly a top priority, more so for Muslims as Islam is its first victim and main loser. But some of those in a hurry to join the battle are looking only at the symptoms while ignoring the root causes. It is also important to remind all concerned that the Middle Eastern powers now claiming to be partners in the war against “takfirist terror” have, for decades, traded on such terror, promoting and exploiting it. The current government in Baghdad remembers just whose borders Al-Qaeda terrorists had to cross over in order to enter then US-occupied Iraq, and under whose noses they managed to do this.

Today, in Syria, we are facing a humanitarian tragedy made worse by Washington’s endorsement of Moscow’s positions, giving its implicit blessing to the Moscow conference. It is also important to recall that what has brought about this catastrophic situation inside Syria and its neighboring countries is Washington’s continuous rejection of calls from the opposition and the genuine “Friends of Syria” for no-fly zones and safe havens.

Washington’s inaction has led to the following:

– By not acting against Assad despite issuing several warning, the Syrian president has been left free to use every weapon in his possession against his own people.

– Washington’s passivity has stopped the uprising’s momentum, so mass desertions of politicians and military fizzled out when they discovered the long concealed truth that President Obama was unwilling to confront Iran and Russia, and would not force Assad to abdicate.

– Through the same passivity, Washington has emboldened Iran to order Iranian, Lebanese, Iraqi and other (Shi’ite) fighters to back Assad militarily, with Russia taking care of arms supplies.

– Washington has weakened and disheartened the moderates in the Syrian opposition camp, turning the Free Syrian Army (FSA) into the weakest fighting force on Syrian soil, while allowing—during 4 long years—thousands of extremists to come to Syria from all corners of the world. These extremists, in turn, have now undermined the uprising’s credibility and blemished its image.

This means that what is being planned in Moscow is nothing more than a conspiracy, not a conference, against Syria and its popular uprising.

Like the “De Mistura Plan” before it, everything now is out in the open.