President Bashar al-Assad and his loyal military continue to bombard civilian neighborhoods with mortars, invade rebel strongholds, and slaughter the Syrian people. The results are more than 5,000 civilian deaths and a rebel force, the Free Syrian Army, with increasing numbers and influence.
These two military forces have created a large rift within Syria that is leading to high increases in violence and it looks to be headed towards a full-fledged civil war, if it is not considered one yet. Russia was correct in their choice to veto a UN Security Council Resolution which would have endorsed an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer power to his deputy to prepare free elections. But they now find themselves in the diplomatic spotlight and they must be firm with their relations in Syria.
When the resolution was put forth, it was a thinly-veiled attempt by Western diplomats trying to influence a successor to Syria through the authority of the UN. The Security Council never expected it to pass as Russia and China were vehemently against it from the start. In the diplomatic sense, it makes sense for Russia to veto the resolution and work alone to influence a long-time ally in a region where it matters very much who your friends are.
If Russia wanted to continue their smooth relationship with Syria (a close ally and arms buyer), it was necessary to veto the resolution. But since the veto and a highly publicized diplomatic meeting, Russia is now receiving criticism for the increasing government violence against Syrian citizens.
“We have confirmed our preparedness to facilitate a rapid end to the crisis based on the positions set out in the Arab League initiative. In particular, the president of Syria gave assurance that he is fully committed to an end to violence, no matter its source,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after meeting with al-Assad.
Moscow needs to be strong-handed in their negotiations with Assad if they want to become the diplomatic power player for the East. With tensions soaring in the Middle East, Russia is using the sensitive situation to strongly position themselves against the United States.
It could be a beneficial move for Russia assuming that they make the right call and get Assad to step down willingly. Doing so enables Russia to have a say in who follows, securing a safer strategic political ally for the future. Stabilizing their key ally will also lend needed leverage to Russia in the diplomatic front.
Unfortunately, this leaves the people of Syria exposed to what would likely end up in continuing violence. Though, that is what could become the narrative of the Middle East, as many countries seem to be choosing sides and gearing up for a tumultuous decade in the region. With the volatile Iran situation, countries are strategically picking sides and a more stable Syria is in the best interests of Russia and Iran alike.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons