MOSCOW (AFP) – Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora was expected to press President Vladimir Putin to use his influence with Syria to help defuse a political crisis that Siniora sees as a Damascus-backed coup attempt.
The Lebanese premier arrived late Thursday in Moscow as mass demonstrations against his Western-backed government continued in Beirut by supporters of the Syrian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah and its Christian allies.
On arrival overnight, Siniora urged Moscow to come to his help. “We are for the regularization of relations with Syria. I think Russia can exert some pressure in this direction,” he was quoted as saying Friday by Interfax news agency.
In addition to Putin, Siniora was scheduled to meet Russian security council chief Igor Ivanov and parliamentary leaders, ITAR-TASS reported.
The Lebanese prime minister’s arch rival, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is also due to fly to the Russian capital on Monday for a three-day visit, prompting speculation that Putin may attempt to broker a deal between the two leaders.
Moscow is eager to reassert its influence in the Middle East, which has waned since the collapse of the Soviet Union. As its chief arms supplier, Russia is recognized as having influence over Syria, its longtime chief ally in the region.
“Siniora has come knocking on the door to the one country that has privileged contacts with Iran — where Western powers have none — and also with Syria and Israel,” said Yevgeny Satanovsky, head of the Middle East Institute in Moscow.
“Russia once again has a strong position in the region and can play the role of mediator.”
According to Siniora, Moscow could play a key role because Russia “not only supports Lebanon, but the whole Arab people…. This fact is very important for us,” ITAR-TASS reported.
He singled out what he said had been Russia’s diplomatic influence in pressing for an end to Israel’s conflict with Lebanon in July and August, triggered by a Hezbollah cross-border raid into Israel.
“Russia gave political support to Lebanon this summer and did everything to end this terrible war.”
Ahead of the trip, Lebanon’s ambassador to Russia said that Siniora’s visit was aimed at providing Russia with “trustworthy” information about the situation in Lebanon, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Syria was the powerbroker in Lebanon for nearly three decades. It was forced to withdraw its troops last year amid a public outcry over the murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri, widely blamed on Syria, a charge Damascus denies.
Lebanon’s pro-Syrian political opposition now wants to bring down Siniora’s government over demands for greater power-sharing, seen by the government as a ploy to reassert Syrian influence in the country.
Siniora warned the demonstrators Friday to show restraint, saying “these protests have no future.”
“They know the dangers, there are red lines in Lebanon … A takeover of the state is not achievable,” he said in an interview published in The Financial Times.