Russia-Syria umbilical cord — what to do next
LAST Wednesday night (Nov. 14) a meeting was held between the GCC and Russian foreign ministers at the GCC Secretariat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There was one item on the agenda: Syria. It was the second meeting on the subject between the two sides in as many months. The last meeting was held in New York on Sept. 27.
As the Wednesday meeting was convened at Russia’s request, some had hoped that it had something new to propose. It was therefore surprising that it only repeated previous positions.
GCC and Russia embarked on a strategic dialogue in November 2011. They had hoped to launch a full-fledged strategic cooperation in all areas — economic, political and cultural. However, Russia’s position on Syria, which ran against international consensus and unnecessarily prolonged the conflict, made it difficult to put that plan into action. Instead, the focus of the two sides’ interactions has been so far on Syria only.
The Russians said in the past that they understood the demands of the Syrian people and sympathized with the dire conditions that Syria had been reduced to, but they were opposed to changing the regime. At the Riyadh meeting, they did not object to changing it per se, but said they did not want to be the ones to do it. A very slight movement in the right direction.
However, by blocking Untied Nations Security Council from taking a stand, the Russians are effectively shielding the regime from international action and giving it the support it needs to continue its war against its people. By continuing to provide the government with weapons, it is increasing the regime’s ability to wreak havoc. Without Russian support, the Syrian regime may in fact be more inclined to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict.
What is behind Russia’s stubborn position?
Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said on Wednesday that it was not economic, military or strategic motives that were behind Russia’s support of the Syrian regime, nor was it the desire to sell more weapons. He said, the Soviet Union might have had some strategic motivations in supporting Syria, but Russia did not.
Lavrov in effect made the Russian position even less comprehensible. The Russians claimed that their position was out of respect for international law, but had no clear explanation as to why they cast or threatened to veto every time the UN Security Council tried to stop the bloodshed in Syria. Nor why they voted against every UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council resolution on Syria, against clear majorities in every case.
International law is best understood as the embodiment of the will of the international community, which has spoken loudly and clearly against the atrocities being committed everyday by the Syrian regime.
There were two main UN General Assembly resolutions this year, in February and August, both of which condemned the Syrian government’s use of excessive and disproportionate force against defenseless civilians. Each resolution was supported by a super majority of over (130) nations, representing the overwhelming will of most nations across the world.
The two resolutions were opposed by only a small group of Syrian regime supporters — 12 nations in all, including Russia, China, Iran, Belarus and North Korea.
The UN and human rights organizations have exhaustively documented crimes against humanity being committed by Syrian forces, in addition to extrajudicial killings, rape and torture.
As of Nov. 15, over 41,000 civilians are believed to have been killed since the start of the conflict in March 2011. Some (2.5) million Syrians have been made homeless, either inside Syria or in neighboring counties. Neighborhoods and whole towns have been razed by heavy indiscriminate bombardment and airstrikes.
Consequently, the United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted seven resolutions since the start of the crisis. In every resolution, the UNHRC condemned the Syrian government, with clear majorities of nations across the globe. Every time, those resolutions were opposed by Russia, China and Cuba.
It is thus evident that a large majority of nations strongly believes that the Syrian regime has gone beyond the pale of international legitimacy. Contrary to what the crass media of the Syrian regime say, a state’s sovereignty cannot be held sacrosanct when it commits crimes against humanity on a daily basis, in indiscriminate attacks on defenseless civilians.
The GCC-Russia meeting on Wednesday made it clear that Russia was going to continue its single-minded support of the Syrian regime, against the consensus of the Syrian people, and in defiance of clear Arab, Muslim and international consensus.
Russian veto will also continue to block action by the UN Security Council.
As such, the meeting was useful in demonstrating that there is no point in prolonging the debate about what to do next. It has become quite clear: The international community must be prepared to sidestep Russia and take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner.
This action may have to take place outside the framework of the Security Council, which is being paralyzed by Russia. Nevertheless, such action would be clearly within the boundaries of international law, if undertaken for the objective of protecting Syrian civilians and stopping crimes against humanity.
All means necessary to save Syrians from annihilation should be employed: Safe haven, no-fly zone, but above all recognition of the newly established National Coalition of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, with all that such recognition entails.