Why Russia Won't Help on Syria

By Charap, Samuel | International Herald Tribune, January 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Why Russia Won't Help on Syria


Charap, Samuel, International Herald Tribune


Moscow simply does not believe that the U.N. should be in the business of endorsing the removal of a sitting government.

With all the special-envoy visits to Moscow and accompanying news headlines, a casual observer might easily conclude that Russia holds the key to resolving the Syrian crisis. But as the latest round of failed talks this weekend -- this time between Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy on Syria -- conclusively demonstrate, Russia will not be part of the solution on Syria.

Senior Russian officials have made that clear for months, but some members of the international community, perhaps until recently, just didn't believe them.

This confusion could stem from the frequent reporting on the ties that bound Russia to President Bashar al-Assad's Syria -- military, industrial, religious, intelligence-gathering and so on. These factors certainly play some role in Moscow's approach. But the Kremlin has issued three U.N. Security Council vetoes, bent over backward to water down the so-called Geneva Communique calling for a peaceful transition of authority, and fastidiously avoided joining the call for Assad to step down. This is not because of Moscow's interests in Syria or because it backs Assad -- indeed, as early as the summer of 2011, Russia's president at the time, Dmitri Medvedev, warned that barring immediate reforms, "a sad fate awaits him."

Rather, the tragedy in Syria has brought to the surface a fundamental divergence between Russia's approach to international intervention and that of much of the rest of the international community, particularly the United States and the European Union. Moscow does not believe the U.N. Security Council should be in the business of endorsing the removal of a sitting government.

Many people in the Russian foreign-policy establishment believe that the string of U.S.-led interventions that resulted in regime change since the end of the Cold War -- in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya -- are a threat to the stability of the international system and potentially to "regime stability" in Russia itself. Russia did not give its imprimatur to these interventions, and will never do so if it suspects the motive is removal of a sitting government.

The notion that Russia could eventually be the target of such an intervention might seem absurd in Washington, but suspicion of potential future U.S. intentions runs deep in Moscow. Therefore, Russia uses what power it has to shape the international system -- particularly, its permanent seat on the U. …

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