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April 04, 2012, Wednesday

Russia’s ‘principled stance’ in Syria

“It is all about principles,” said one Russian analyst the other day at a think tank meeting on Syria. He and a few other Russian colleagues working on the Syria file underlined Moscow’s “principled stance” on the crisis in Syria.

 For Russia -- they were arguing -- it was all about reminding the world that Russia is still a “superpower.” According to our Russian friends, “The world now understands that Russia has veto power.” Well, jolly good!

It is now clear that Moscow is using the Syrian crisis as a tool to reiterate its grievances about the global system of governance in which it still holds onto veto power. They could not care less about the Syrians’ quest for democracy and dignity. They care somewhat about the geopolitical aspect of the crisis. However, their primary point of departure is to teach the world a lesson in view of their disappointment with what happened in Libya and how UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was abused by the West. They have a point on UNSC Resolution 1973, but why do innocent Syrians have to pay for it with their lives?

Listening to such comments from our Russian colleagues on the situation in Syria, one gets the impression the Russians are talking about cattle being killed in Syria. No offense to our Hindu friends, but this is the impression one gets. I needed to remind the audience that the Russian position is a disgrace, an insult to our conscience and a low point of morality. Another speaker spoke about Moscow being on the wrong side of history. Our Russian colleagues would have none of it. "This is all pure literature,” the Russian speaker said.

Moscow has put all of its eggs into the Assad basket, and along with Iran they are lending all of their support to the heinous regime in Damascus. Although Moscow is increasingly aware that Assad is unlikely to survive, they have an advantage in the indecision and lack of political will on the part of the US and the Europeans. Hence, they are seeking to strike a bargain that would be delivered -- of course -- by Russian diplomacy. Moscow also makes the strong point that their motivations are very different from those of Tehran. They obviously do not see it in their favor to be seen in the same camp with the vulnerable Iranians.

Whatever diplomatic maneuvering and procedural reasoning Moscow will hide behind, the fact will not change that Moscow has lent a murderous regime critical support at a time when a large part of the international community is condemning it. The vote tally in the UNSC as well as the General Assembly should be interpreted correctly in Moscow. Russia can only delay the inevitable. It cannot change the historic tide in favor of democracy, freedom and dignity. Given the state of affairs in the illiberal electocracy of Russia, it should be no surprise that they fear this historic tide. They know that once the Middle East has completed its revolutions, the next stop will be the volatile North Caucasus or even Russia itself. Russia might win a short-term coup in Syria -- primarily due to the lack of political will in the US -- but in the long term it will be a clear loser. Russia will be remembered as siding with murderous dictators in the Arab Awakening. Russia maintains a veto in the UNSC not because of its standing today but because of the Soviet Union’s standing in the old order. Russia today is a declining power with a one-dimensional economy susceptible to external shocks. Its population is declining, its armed forces are far from mobile and its corrupt and authoritarian electocracy is no longer working for middle class Russians. Before lecturing us on “principles” we all know the Russians could not care less about, it would be appropriate if they exercise some modesty and moral responsibility given the blood that stains their hands.

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