Russia pulling rug from under Assad
?AS YEAREND APPROACHES, it appears the sky is falling for Syria’s President Bashar Assad. At the same time United States President Barack Obama is preparing to put his new cabinet in place and has already nominated Senator John Kerry, former Democratic presidential candidate, as secretary of state.
??A decorated Vietnam War veteran, Senator Kerry, if confirmed by the Senate, will have a daunting task. The situation in the Middle East, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Egypt remains unresolved and threatens the peace and security of the world.
??Though experienced in international affairs and in the art of convincing world leaders to fall in line with Washington’s policy, Kerry will soon be handling the world’s most demanding job of recasting America’s image in the 21st century. The world will be watching.
??In the case of Syria, time is running out for President Assad. Last Saturday Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would welcome any country’s offer of a safe haven to him, but underlined that Moscow itself had no intention of giving him shelter if he stepped down.
It must be remembered that Russia has used its veto right at the United Nations (UN) Security Council to protect its old ally Syria from international sanctions, but in recent times has increasingly sought to distance itself from Assad.
Russia now seems ready to bolt. Lavrov told reporters that countries in the region he would not name publicly had asked Russia to convey their offer of a safe passage to Assad. He said that Russia responded by telling them to go directly to Assad.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, last week also caused a mini-storm when he expressed pessimism about the fate of the Syrian regime, and then claimed he was misunderstood by journalists.
The breathless denials seem weaker in the wake of the comments by Russia’s President Vladmir Putin, who appears to be of the same opinion. He said it was time to put some distance between Moscow and Damascus, its staunchest ally in the Middle East.
This suggests that the tide is turning against the Assad regime and Russia does not want to side with a Trojan horse if the rebels seem to be on a winning streak. It would want to safeguard its strategic bridgehead to the Mediterranean Sea.
The most unfortunate aspect is that diplomacy has taken a backseat on Syria, and there is hardly any move by the UN or the Arab League to push for an amicable solution. Assad is holding the fort as the media’s glare, luckily for him, has turned on the political upheavals in Egypt.
Russia’s gunboat diplomacy could make history if it succeeded in convincing the Assad regime to stand down in the larger interests of peace and security. It is high time that Syria is brought back from the brink.