Sept. 11, 2013
After two years of being blamed for blocking the road to peace in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears now to be in the driver’s seat while U.S. President Barack Obama is stuck on the passenger side looking for a map.
Obama administration officials argue that it was the U.S. threat of force that brought Russia forward with its proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. But it appears that the prospect of Mr. Obama losing his bid for congressional approval of military action against Syria had a lot more to do with it, prompting Mr. Putin to throw him a lifeline.
For the Russian leader, it’s a chance to appear statesmanlike for a change, while still safeguarding his country’s own interests. Not only is Syria an old client state, dating from the time of the former Soviet Union, it also is an ally of Iran. Syria and Iran share the goal of keeping the Sunni jihadists out of Damascus.
Russia has the same goal. “Russia has had enough trouble with jihadists in Afghanistan and Chechnya and doesn’t want another jihadist state in the region,” said Adnan Abu Odeh, a former Jordanian diplomat.
Keeping the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in place in Syria also serves another Russian interest. A government friendly to Russia would prevent Qatar, the resource-rich Gulf state, from making good on its proposal to use Syria as a conduit for a gas pipeline to Turkey and on to Europe. Europe is a major market for Russian natural gas.
To make sure the threat of a U.S. strike against Syria doesn’t soon return, Russia has already insisted that any United Nations Security Council resolution that would authorize the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons not include the threat of military consequences should the plan fail. U.S. and French diplomats have called for such a provision.
The decommissioning plan will succeed, Mr. Putin said this week, “only if the U.S. and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force.”
“It is difficult to make any country – Syria or any other country in the world – unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration.”
Mr. Obama may have little choice but to accede to that demand. If this plan never gets off the ground, he may not find any more support in Congress than he had a few days ago for military action. After pledging to seek congressional approval to punish the Syrian regime for its alleged gas attack on civilians last month, Mr. Obama is also unlikely to launch a strike without that support.
Mr. al-Assad also appears to have emerged a winner, or a survivor for the moment. Mr. Obama, who declared back in 2011 that the Syrian dictator had to go, has said repeatedly since the Aug. 21 gas attack that he wants to carry out a limited strike on Syria to degrade its chemical weapons capabilities, not to effect regime change. Read full
Putin: Rebels used gas, not Assad [NYTimes Op-Ed]
The New York Times has published an op-ed article written by Russian president Vladimir Putin titled, ‘A plea for caution from Russia’. Putin has called for Washington to pursue diplomacy rather than use force.
“No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.”
“The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”
Putin calls for the use the United Nations Security Council as “one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.”