Putin plays hardball in Syria, uses Lavrov to distract gullible UN and international community—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #13 (March 20)

AP reporter Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow a week ago that:

Russia has no intention of curtailing military cooperation with Syria despite calls from the West to stop arming President Bashar Assad’s regime, a senior Russian government official said Tuesday.

Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Russia will abide by existing contracts to deliver weapons to Syria despite Assad’s yearlong crackdown on the opposition, in which over 7,500 people have been killed.

“Russia enjoys good and strong military technical cooperation with Syria, and we see no reason today to reconsider it,” Antonov told reporters.

(I)n January, a Russian ship allegedly carrying tons of munitions made a dash for Syria after telling officials in EU member Cyprus, where it had made an unexpected stop, that it was heading for Turkey. Turkish officials said the ship had instead charted course for Tartus.

Antonov said Russia’s supply of weapons to Syria is in line with international law and will continue. “Russian-Syrian military cooperation is perfectly legitimate,” he said.

“The only thing that worries us today is the security of our citizens,” Antonov said in a reference to Russian military personnel in Syria that are training the Syrians in the use of weapons supplied by Russia.

He declined to say how many of them are currently stationed in Syria.

“It’s part of our contractual obligations,” said Antonov, who oversees military technical cooperation with foreign countries. “When we supply weapons, we have to provide training.”

–Vladimir Isachenkov (AP), “Russia says it will keep selling weapons to Syria,” The Guardian, March 13 2012.

While Russia continues to furnish the weapons and ammunition that are being used by the Syrian regime to commit crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria, and to train the Syrian military in the use of those weapons through Russian military personnel on the ground in Syria, Vladimir Putin is using Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to sound notes critical of al-Assad and indicating frustration with al-Assad’s approach to the opposition.

Obama and the West and the Arab countries of the Middle East hang on the hope that Kofi Annan may persuade al-Assad to slacken the pace of the slaughter of his opponents in Syria, and make a few concessions in the direction of humanitarian measures. Instead of a total ceasefire by the Syrian forces and a withdrawal of tanks from cities, as called for in the Arab League’s November 2, 2011 peace plan, their goal now is to have two hours a day of humanitarian relief access–while al-Assad’s murderous assault on his opponents, armed and unarmed, goes unchecked.

Let us keep our eyes on the ball: The Russian game has as its clear goals 1) the maintenance of Bashar al-Assad in power; 2) continued military-technical cooperation with Syria, including the continuing supply of arms and ammunition, and Russian trainers and training; 3) continued presence and operation of Russia’s naval base at the port of Tartus (Tartous); 4) continued maintenance in Syria of its communications and listening post for the region; and 5) presumably its continued use of Syria as a platform for clandestine operations in the Middle East.

Nothing Lavrov has said, or which the Security Council might agree to in a new resolution accepted by Russia and China, along the lines being discussed, will change the realities on the ground. Al-Assad will continue to control the game of what he will or will not allow the UN to do, which diverts attention from what his own military and security forces are doing every day throughout the country.

Moreover, a new resolution could make things worse, by establishing a Security Council commitment to leave al-Assad in power while he continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, with strong and continued Russian and Chinese backing to block any meaningful action by the Security Council in the future.

Heads, Russia and al-Assad win.
Tails, the West, the Arab countries and the international community lose.

With any new Security Council resolution catering to the demands of Russia, what will be the chances that detainees in Syria will not be tortured and killed? What will be the chances that they will have fact-based charges brought against them, a right to an attorney, and a fair trial by an independent judiciary?

What prospects will there be for al-Assad and his henchmen to be brought to justice before an international court?

What kind of peaceful transition removing al-Assad from power will be possible as long as he is making the decisions? As long as he and his Russian backers are calling the shots?

The United States had better wake up and grasp the fact that Putin is out to play hardball–and not only in Syria–and that U.S.-Russian relations are not likely to return to a stable orbit until Obama demonstrates some resolve and pushes back.

U.S.-Russian relations may be in fact at an extremely dangerous point, as Putin, flush with his vistory at the polls and a new term as president before him, may have taken the measure of President Obama and could judge him lacking in resolve, much as Nikita Kruschev misjudged John F. Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961 and after his meeting with Kennedy at the Vienna summit on June 4, 1961, making a colossal miscalculation by deciding to introduce nuclear missiles into Cuba. That decision led the world to the edge of the precipice of nuclear war–much closer to the edge than is commonly appreciated.

The UN “mediation” remains a gambit that plays to the Russians’ demands, and which even if successful, will leave al-Assad in power, free to unleash his military or security forces against anyone and everyone at will, with the real chances of a peaceful transition resulting from this process being close to nil.

The Trenchant Observer



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