Syria in deadlock as Russia props up president Bashar al-Assad to stop ‘Arab spring’
By Fiona O’Cleirigh | 12 July 2012
Russia has a key role in the conflict in Syria and has already proved to be an obstacle to America’s attempts to intervene. The United States has shown signs of frustration with Russia over its attempts to rein in the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the state run by the Ba’ath party.
Lord Hannay, a former UK ambassador to the United Nations and now chairman of the UN all-party parliamentary group, told Exaro: “Some, particularly the Russians, seem to be encouraging the deadlock because they are continuing to provide weapons to the regime, which is using them to appalling effect, to shell built-up areas and to murder people, and so on.
“Putin does not wish to see Syria fall – the regime fall – to the ‘Arab spring’”
– Chris Doyle, director, Council for Arab-British Understanding
“I do not think that it is actually in Russia’s long-term interest because I think Bashar al-Assad and the Ba’ath party are doomed.
“At some stage or other, they are going to go, and the longer the Russians prop them up, the more damage they will probably do to their interests in the longer term, quite apart from the fact that they will not get a single penny back, for all the weapons they are providing, because Syria is bankrupt.
“I do not think that it suits them, and I am quite certain that it does not suit the European Union and the Americans because they would much rather see a rapid transition and end to the killing, and a major effort to establish representative institutions in Syria in a way that has never existed before.”
Two former UK ambassadors to countries in the Middle East warned the West against direct military intervention in Syria.
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, stresses the weak position of the US and the EU, both economically and politically.
The US president, Barack Obama, who is committed to withdrawing military forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, is unlikely to want “to get bogged down in another very problematic, challenging country involved in a civil war where it would be easy to get in and very difficult to get out,” said Doyle.
“When you go to public meetings on Syria now, the United States is frequently not even mentioned.”
He sees as crucial the approach of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, which contrasts with that of his predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, who is now prime minister.
Doyle said: “First, because of Libya, because of historic reasons, Putin is certainly trying to throw his weight around to show that Russia is not going to be pushed around by the United States and the West. And that, I think, is very important for him, more important than it was for Medvedev.
“Second, Putin does not wish to see Syria fall – the regime fall – to the ‘Arab spring’. He does not see this as a welcome precedent for Russia internally, given his problems back at home. But, in that sense, he is on the same page as the Saudis.”
While the Saudis support the rebels, Russia ostensibly backs the Syrian state, said Doyle. “One of my arguments for why the Saudis are supporting the rebels is actually to destabilise the situation in order to show that it is extremely costly to go against one of these regimes. So from opposite sides, they both want to stop the Arab spring.”