Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Russia, al-Assad and the last kiss! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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How similar today’s events are to yesterday’s! Here yesterday does not mean the immediate past, or ancient history, but rather events that took place in 1990, which we must remember in order to understand what is happening in 2012, specifically in Syria, following the visits of both Moscow’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Head of Intelligence to Damascus, and their meeting with Bashar al-Assad.

In 1990, the Soviet Union sent its Foreign Minister, veteran politician Yevgeny Primakov, to meet with Saddam Hussein, in what was known as last-minute diplomacy. Moscow at the time was carrying out yet another attempt to persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait, and today Moscow is undertaking the same task; the task of the final moments. The difference is that today Moscow is not trying to persuade al-Assad to withdraw his forces from another country, but rather to stop killing his own people, and initiate genuine reforms, at least according to what the Russians say. Whatever happened in the meeting yesterday in Damascus, the best way to try to understand it is to evoke a story of great significance; the meeting between Primakov and Saddam Hussein in 1990. Russia’s thought process today is the same as the Soviet Union’s yesterday, just as Bashar al-Assad today is like Saddam Hussein yesterday, but worse.

In his book “Years in Big Politics”, Mr. Primakov said that he had met Saddam Hussein during his visit to Baghdad, and the late Iraqi dictator at the time was surrounded by all the members of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council. Saddam said to Primakov: “I want you to see for yourself that in the Iraqi leadership there are not only hawks, but there are doves also”.Primakov responded to Saddam’s comment by saying that his work and his mission would be “with the doves only”. The then Iraqi Vice President, Taha Yassin Ramadan, leapt on this immediately by saying: “In that case we will all go, and leave you with our beloved leader”!

Say we apply this story to the meeting between Russia’s Foreign Minister and Head of Intelligence with Bashar al-Assad, ask yourself what would the tyrant of Damascus say to his Russian guests? Certainly al-Assad would say that he is someone who wants to carry out reform, that he is working towards this, and that he did not order the killings of Syrian citizens, as he said on a US television interview – the same interview where he said that only a crazy person would kill his own people! Likewise, he would also reiterate what he has been saying since he came to power in Syria in 2000, and everything he said in his last four speeches. Al-Assad would end finally by saying that he is among the “doves” in Syria, and not like the other hawks, such as Walid Moallem, who says that the Syrian people want a security solution, or al-Assad’s Interior Minister, who has vowed to cleanse Syria!

Just as we began with a story about the meeting between Primakov and Saddam Hussein in order to understand the meeting between al-Assad and the Russians, we must also conclude with another story from Primakov’s book. He writes that his meetings with Saddam Hussein at the time of crisis were not all “completely unsuccessful. We were able primarily to evacuate five thousand Soviet experts and their families”.

So, will the Russians’ meeting with al-Assad end in a similar manner to Primakov’s meeting with Saddam Hussein? Most probably, and it will be a kiss goodbye, especially given that history in our region always repeats itself.