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The Russian bear does a backflip | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Russia’s recent statements regarding the Syrian crisis indicates that the Russian bear has actually done a backflip, but is yet to stand on his feet, and only then we will truly see the magnitude of Russia’s size and the impact of its reversal! Indeed, we have recently witnessed a series of statements from Moscow suggesting that Russia is now in a stage of repositioning its stance towards the Syrian crisis.

We have seen heated Russian statements, including those made by President Putin in which he said that his country’s stance on Syria was not in support of al-Assad, and that the interests of his country with the West, and of course the Arabs, were more important than its interests with al-Assad. There was also the Russian-Arab agreement – formulated in Cairo – on five points in support of UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan’s mission, in accordance with the Arab resolutions, which stipulates a peaceful transfer of power in Syria along the lines of Yemen. Furthermore, there was the criticism lodged by the Russian Foreign Minister [Sergei Lavrov] speaking in the Russian State Duma (parliament) a few days ago, where he rebuked al-Assad by saying: “Regrettably, he hasn’t always followed our advice in his activities”. Lavrov claimed that Russia’s advice had not transformed into a practical reality within an appropriate timeframe, rather the opposite has happened. He warned that “inertia” may “sweep and engulf all”.

This is not all of course, another important Russian statement was the one issued by Mr. Lavrov the day before yesterday during an interview with a Russian television channel, where the Foreign Minister said: “We believe the Syrian government should quickly, without delay, support (Annan’s) approaches”. He added “I repeat, we do not support the Syrian government. We support the need to start a political process. To do that it is first necessary to cease fire”. Lavrov went on to say: “The Russian side will do all it can for that, regardless of the decisions the Syrian government makes. With many of which, by the way, we do not agree”. These Russian statements confirm what I wrote on Saturday about a Russian official – of less stature than Lavrov – telling Syrian ministers that the al-Assad regime must respond to Annan’s proposals, and that Moscow is not prepared to look like it is protecting a “killer”.

Therefore, the Russian bear has actually done a 180 flip with regards to its position towards the Syrian crisis, but it is not standing on its feet yet so we cannot see the size of its influence. It is clear that a complete Russian turn-around will depend on the al-Assad regime’s response to Annan’s efforts, which the tyrant of Damascus will not take very seriously as usual, but rather he will negotiate along the famous way of Adel Imam; “you give up and then I will give up”. The al-Assad regime will demand that the rebels lay down their weapons first, while the West says that al-Assad must stop the killings first, and Russia says that all parties must stop the fighting, i.e. Moscow stands in the middle. All this means that those concerned with the region are communicating with Moscow more than ever. If Russia allows US forces to use its territory, how can it then go to the very end defending al-Assad? This is incomprehensible, and so we say that the Russian bear has done a flip, and all that remains is for him to regain his footing, so we can all see its complete reversal on the Syrian crisis. I think we are close to that.