Showing posts with label Russia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russia. Show all posts

August 11, 2016

Turkish and Russian leaders can no longer compartmentalize their relations

    Thursday, August 11, 2016   No comments
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Turkey’s president may have pushed the reset button of his country’s relations with Russia, but it will be a while before he can reap economic benefits.
 
Reason for Putin wanting gradual restoration of economic ties with Turkey: Russia cannot help rejuvenate the Turkish economy to enable the Turkish government to kill Russian soldiers (and abuse their corpses) in Syria by proxies

In 2011, the sudden protest movement popularly known as the Arab Spring triggered fundamental changes in the political and social landscapes of the Middle East—not just the Arab world as the name suggests. Turkey’s government, like many others around the world, did not know how to react at first. Erdoğan, as his country’s prime minister and then president, supported the Tunisian revolution, wavered in his support for the Egyptian president before committing to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and opposed NATO’s war on Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. When peaceful protesters took the streets in some Syrian cities, Erdoğan, relying on a sectarian instinct and a nationalist impulse, offered Assad fifteen days to meet the protesters’ demands before he would cut all relations and put all his weight behind the Syrian opposition forces. A few weeks later, Turkey played a pivotal role in using Qatari and Saudi money and weapons to transition the protest movement into an armed rebellion committed to a single objective: overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. This role, to which Erdoğan committed himself, necessarily created a conflict for him with two other powerful neighbors and economic partners: Russia and Iran.
For the first four years of the Syrian crisis, the leaders of Turkey, Iran, and Russia thought that they could compartmentalize their relations. They could continue to strengthen their economic ties, while agreeing to disagree on Syria. That approach failed when it became clear that the differences between Turkey on one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other, in relation to Syria were more than disagreements. Iran and Russia have had long-standing strategic alliances with Syria for many years. In fact, two years earlier, Iran had signed a security deal with Syria that required each of them to come to the aid of the other should one be attacked. Russia has had a naval base in Syria since the days of the Soviet Union. With that being the case, it was not possible to compartmentalize, especially when all three countries were committed to preserving their interests in Syria and in the region.
So it was no surprise that all three countries were actively involved in Syria beyond what they publicly revealed. Russia and Iran first provided the Syrian government with weapons and economic assistance to help it weather the crisis, but Turkey took a direct role from the start of the conflict and allowed the free flow of weapons and fighters into Syria. By 2015, all three countries increased their involvement. Turkey provided training, control and command centers, and free flow of weapons and fighters to the opposition groups. Russia and Iran sent more military hardware and eventually fighter jets and military personnel to Syria. That escalation led to the crucial mistake on the part of the Turkish leaders.
Hoping to draw NATO deeper in the Syrian conflict, Erdoğan ordered a Russian bomber shot down. The crew ejected, but one member was killed by an armed group supported by Turkish security forces and partially staffed by Turkish citizens. This incident prompted President Putin to impose harsh economic sanctions that further stressed the slumping Turkish economy. Russia’s economic, rather than military, response to what they saw as an act of war rendered NATO useless in terms of assisting Turkey. Putin then insisted that economic sanctions would stay in place and might even be tightened unless Erdoğan formally apologized and took responsibility for downing the Russian fighter jet and killing the pilot. Erdoğan insisted that it was Putin who should apologize for violating Turkish airspace. Seven months later, with the Turkish economy in decline, Erdoğan sent a letter to Putin expressing sorrow and taking responsibility for the incident. Russian leaders welcomed the gestures and promised to ease some of the sanctions. But Erdoğan wanted more than easing the sanctions—he needed economic relations between the two countries to be restored to the pre-incident period or better. So he requested an earlier meeting with Putin than the one scheduled to happen on the sidelines of the G-20 in China in September of this year. Putin obliged and offered to meet him in Saint Petersburg on August 9.
Erdoğan’s eagerness to meet with his Russian counterpart was motivated by economic considerations, with all other interests being secondary. Russian leaders are also interested in boosting economic ties, but not in a way that will undercut their broader interests in the region. Consequently, the two sides went into the meeting with different priorities. However, it is clear that the Turkish side lacks the strategic thinking that would allow them to see the connection between the Syrian crisis and their national economic conditions. The Turkish economy’s growth was cut by almost 50% immediately after the Syrian crisis, and that correlation alone should be enough to convince Turkish leaders to address both their economic concerns and the Syrian crisis at the same time, not in isolation from one another. Failure to do so soon will undo the possible benefits of the apology.
There is a reason Erdoğan is widely popular in Turkey: since he and his party, AKP, won the first elections that allowed them to govern without the need for a coalition for nearly a decade and a half, he turned a slumping economy with a negative GDP growth rate—-5.7 in 2001—into a formidable global force. He attracted investors, rebuilt the infrastructure, and turned Turkey into a magnet for businesspersons and tourists. The results were impressive: Between 2002 and 2011, Turkey’s average GDP growth rate was 5.45.
The average GDP  in the last four years, since the start of the so-called Arab Spring (2012-2015), barely reached 3.33. The numbers for 2016 are worrisome. Turkey’s problem became tied to the Syrian crisis when Erdoğan took it upon himself to be the defender of the Syrian people against their own president: he threw his support behind violent groups allowing the flow of weapons and fighters into that country with the aim of overthrowing Assad’s government. Given the long-standing relationship between Russia and Syria, Turkish-Russian relations suffered, especially when Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 near its border with Syria . The connections between the Syrian crisis, Turkey’s relations with Russia, and the health of the Turkish economy are compelling . Although Russia would benefit from economic ties with Turkey, Russian leaders have made the connection between long-term economic development and strategic alliances with other countries. With Russia soldiers now dying in Syria on the hands of fighters enabled, trained, and supported by Turkey, it would be reckless for Russia to fully separate economic interests and military and security matters involving Turkey. That is one of the main reasons Erdoğan returned from Russia practically empty handed, with only promises.
Russia will not shore up a Turkish economy that supports terrorists in Syria who killed Russian soldiers, abused their corpses, and threaten to kill more. For that reason, Putin insisted that the lifting of sanctions must be gradual. Russian thinking is long term: if Putin waited for seven months to receive Erdoğan’s apology, he is prepared to wait another seven months to see Turkey implement its commitments to fighting terrorism by sealing the border and stopping the flow of weapons, fighters, and stolen Syrian oil and goods.
Russians are prepared to fast-track the economic projects that are long term and delay the ones with immediate payoff for the Turkish economy until Turkey meets its obligations. Russia’s thinking was reflected in their plan to restart work on Turkish Stream pipeline, without shelving alternative projects involving other countries. The principle that Russian leaders are using to reset their relations with Turkey also favors restarting economic exchange that benefits the Russian economy and while delaying exchange that benefits the Turkish economy until Turkey changes its calculus on Syria. Russia is not conditioning its economic relations with Turkey on Syria because it cares about Assad, but because Turkey is indirectly killing Russians in Syria.
The other principle guiding Russia’s foreign policy in relation to the Syrian crisis was made clear during the press conference that Erdoğan and Putin held after their first meeting. Responding to the first question, Putin looked at his guest and declared:
“Our position is based on this enduring principle: It is impossible to achieve democratic change except through democratic means.”
Not only are these principles guiding Russia’s approach to the Syrian crisis making it difficult for Erdoğan to capitalize on his pragmatism, the consequences of his involvement in Syria are making it almost impossible to start from zero. Indeed, making amends for one jet and one pilot may cost him some political capital and about $25 million. Should Syria pursue legal action to force countries that supported military aggression and profited from looted goods and natural resources to pay reparations, Turkey could be on the hook for billions. Erdoğan was willing to apologize and normalize relations with Putin but not with not Assad because of the cost that might be associated with admission of responsibility in the destruction of Syria.
This is not to say that Turkey has no way out of its problem with Syria. Erdoğan could use Russia as intermediate partner to spend the next five years rebuilding what he helped destroy in Syria over the past five years. This indirect action could be the compromise that might actually work for all parties. The “coup” that Erdoğan wanted to launch against the Syrian government using genocidal fighters did not work, will not work, and may have inspired the failed coup against his government. He has this one opportunity that he had created when he apologized and took responsibility for downing the Russian plane; if unused, all will be for naught.
___________________________
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.


August 9, 2016

Putin-Erdogan first face-to-face talks since Turkey downed the Russian plane cannot avoid addressing the Syrian crisis

    Tuesday, August 09, 2016   No comments

Immediately after the first meeting, the Turkish and Russian presidents set down for a press conference. After reading their prepared remarks, the first question to both of them was about Syria. Erdogan, avoided answering the question claiming that a meeting after the press conference will address the Syrian crisis and it would not be appropriate to comment now. Putin on the other hand, revealed his governments' principle, which will guide the scheduled discussions about Syria:

Our position is based on this enduring principle: It is impossible to achieve democratic change except through democratic means.
 Putin added that he stood by Turkish democracy as a matter of principle, and the same principle applies to Syria. In other words, there cannot be a political solution in Syria that does not go through the Syrian people. The Turkish president, who wanted the world to support democracy against an attempted violent takeover, cannot ask his Russian counterpart to overthrow the president of Syria, and remain consistent. He could argue that Assad’s handling of the protest movement may have reduced his standing among the Syrian people, but only a fair and transparent elections can validate that claim.

August 2, 2016

Will Russia react to Idlib's incident the same way the U.S. reacted to Fallujah's?

    Tuesday, August 02, 2016   No comments


The similarities between two events--one took place in Idlib (Syria) on July 31, 2016 and the other happened March 31, 2004 in Fallujah (Iraq)--are eerie. It is reminder of the connections between the two conflicts. Syria’s is a direct result of the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Fallujah incident, Americans killed, dragged in the streets, and charred bodies hand on a bridge was shocking. But being under shock from seeing the grisly images is not the proper state of mind for launching a military operation. Yet, that is exactly what President Bush and his Secretary of Defense did when they ordered operation Vigilant Resolve.
Russia does not have 150,000 troops on the ground, but it has the power to bomb every town and city under the control of al-Nusra and increase its assistance to the Syrian army. 
Two days after the incident, Russian leaders did not indicate that they will seek revenge and launch new operations, though they are likely to increase the level of support to the Syrian government. 

Moreover, al-Nusra, now re-branded as Jabhat Fath al-Sham, the group that controls the area where the plane was shot down, has enjoyed protection and support from Turkey. With Erdogan scheduled to meet Putin next week, Russia does not see the need to take actions, it may use the incident to force Erdogan to drop his support to al-Nusra and its allies in Jaysh al-Fath and actually start fighting terrorism.

The same way Fallujah changed the direction of the war in Iraq, Idlib, too, will change the direction of the war in Syria. 


July 28, 2016

Could the Cessation of Hostilities help U.S. and Russia overcome their differences on Syria?

    Thursday, July 28, 2016   No comments


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
 
ISIL fighters
It is evident at this point that Syria’s war is not a civil war. It is a world war and now the two superpowers, the U.S. and Russia emerged out of the shadows of their regional allies to take charge. Early this year, the two countries reached an agreement called Cessation of Hostilities (CH), initially effecting select cities but open to be applied across Syria.  The Cessation of Hostilities is simply a bilateral understanding between the U.S. and Russia. It is not a peace accord nor is it an armistice. It is something in between necessitated by the complex map of groups fighting the Syrian government. This CH automatically excluded any and all groups labelled terrorists by the UNSC, including the self-proclaimed Islamic State and its offshoot, al-Nusra Front. In theory, any armed opposition group can be party to this deal provided its members--or a representative thereof--contact monitoring centers staffed by Russian personnel, since Americans are not authorized by the Syrian government to be on Syrian soil, overtly at least. The deal worked in bring some calm to some areas and gave many Syrians some hope.

July 7, 2016

#IslamicSocietiesReview : Turkish-Russian relations in the context of the war in Syria and Turkish economy

    Thursday, July 07, 2016   No comments


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

At one point last year, when the Turkish and Russian leaders had their last meeting, they had hoped that economic trade between their two countries would reach $100 billion. Turkish leaders also wanted to triple trade with Iran to $30 billion. Erdogan, the co-founder of the AKP that has governed Turkey for a decade and a half, knows the importance of economic growth for him to remain in power and shape the country’s future to his liking.

December 28, 2015

The legacy of the illegal war on Iraq and the burden of befriending the Wahhabi rulers

    Monday, December 28, 2015   No comments



A day after the couple Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in San Bernardino, CNN reported that Malik had made “a pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” Subsequently, it was reported that Malik attended al-Huda, a religious institute whose funding and curriculum were decided by Saudi benefactors, and Farook visited Saudi Arabia and married his wife in that country. The connection between terrorists and Saudi sponsored religious institutions is well documented. The connection between ISIL and its derivatives, terrorism, and the civil war in Syria and Iraq must be properly understood and factored into any global strategy to combat terrorism and reduce violence around the world. Law enforcement officials’ reaction to the San Bernardino shooting--suggesting that the attack “may have been inspired by ISIS” but “not directed or ordered” by the group--shows that the connection between Saudi political/religious systems and terrorism is not properly made and understood.

October 2, 2015

Syria’s protest movement that gave birth to a World War

    Friday, October 02, 2015   No comments



The peaceful protest movement that started in Syria in 2011 was transformed by foreign governments’ involvement into a civil war fueled by sectarian and ethnic dreams. Now, we can see that Syria is no longer ground for a civil or proxy war, it is scene of a world war. There are two sides in this conflict. Although each side prefers to frame its identify in appealing descriptors like Friends Of Syria, Anti-Terror Coalition, Preservers Of Legitimacy, and Pro-International Law and Order Nations, the two sides are fixated on one man: Bashar al-Assad. From the moment some Syrians began protesting, the US-Saudi coalition jumped on the opportunity and planned to oust Assad no matter the cost. The Russian-Iranian coalition did not want that to happen no matter the cost. Every other claim about Assad's regime abuse of human rights, forcing a wave of refugees, denying his people democracy, committing war crimes, being authoritarian, and  lacking legitimacy are nice sounding slogans needed to disguise the real agenda. After all, any one of these nations that is directly involved in this crisis is guilty of the same offenses: they all have a record of human rights abuses, ill treatment of refugees, subversion of democracy, war crimes, and authoritarian behavior. Some of these governments never held even sham elections to test their actual legitimacy. Now, each side is undertaking military action to support its side achieve the one goal: remove/strengthen Bashar al-Assad. 

Russia's direct military involvement should not surprise anyone: Russia's leaders have been preparing for it for years. Now, parties of this international conflict are well known. On one side, we have the so-called Friends-Of-Syria or Anti-ISIL nations that supported, trained, and equipped the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which metamorphosed after 2012 into ISIL, al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Jaysh al-Fath, thuwar Suria, and other smaller armed groups. On the other side, we have nations that declared their support for nations' sovereignty, Preservers-Of-Legitimacy (POL), as they want to be called. 


Over time, the coalition of FOS shrunk from nearly 100 nations in 2011, to merely seven nations today: UK, US, France, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. On Friday Oct. 2, these countries released a joint statement, saying that Russian strikes would “only fuel more extremism.”  But they did not explain why Russian strikes would fuel extremism but strikes carried out by FOS would not. 

September 15, 2015

Proposition for ending the crisis in Syria: concurrent devolution of power regionally and military action against genocidal fighters nationally

    Tuesday, September 15, 2015   No comments


 
Syrians as refugees because of this level of destruction of their cities
Politics is the art of compromise. Successful politicians rarely give ultimatums because doing so would limit their ability to navigate complex issues. In 2012, President Obama underestimated the complexity of the crisis in Syria. He drew a “red line” for President Assad: the use of chemical weapons would have “enormous consequences” and would “change [his] calculus” on American military intervention in Syria’s civil war. A year later, someone used weaponized chemicals, killing hundreds of civilians. Although no investigation was conducted to identify the perpetrator at that time, the U.S., encouraged by its regional allies like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, accused the government of Bashar al-Assad. Just days before world leaders were to meet in New York, U.S. bombing of Syria was all but certain. Then two key events changed the course of history. First, Prime Minister David Cameron, initially supportive of military intervention, was restrained by the British parliament. As of September 7, 2013, the U.S. Congress was also set to not authorize the use of force in Syria, especially if it was not authorized by the UNSC. Second, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, made a “silly mistake”, to borrow the words of some observers.
 

April 13, 2014

Is Ukraine becoming for the West what Syria has been for Russia?

    Sunday, April 13, 2014   No comments





Riding the wave of protests known as the Arab Spring, many Syrians rallied to demand more political and civil rights. Without the hesitancy that characterized their initial reaction to the protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt, Western administrations and some of the Persian Gulf regimes immediately threw their support behind the protesters. Assad’s regime belonged to the so-called non-moderate Arab governments and the protesters offered the West and its allies an opportunity to overthrow it. They formed the “Friends of Syria” group, now consisting of only eleven nations, to provide the opposition with all needed support, including deadly arms, to achieve that goal. After three years of brutal war, Syria’s economy and society are severely damaged and its allies, mainly Russia, China, and Iran have invested a huge political, economic, and military capital to help the Syrian government survive. The Friends of Syria claimed that Assad became illegitimate because he killed Syrians. Assad claimed that he was fighting armed terrorists and thugs.

Now fast-forward to 2013. 

February 25, 2014

Lack of real representation of Syrians doomed the Geneva meetings

    Tuesday, February 25, 2014   No comments


 
Two rounds of indirect talks between representatives of the Syrian government and some representatives of the Syrian Coalition have failed to launch a political dialogue to end the deadly crisis in Syria, now entering its fourth year. The failure was expected. Members of the opposition forces did not represent even the Coalition, many of whose members resigned before the meetings. Other opposition groups were excluded due to Western insistence that all opposition negotiators must come to the meeting under the leadership of the Coalition. That rendered the meetings meaningless. Moreover, the Coalition’s exertion of a veto over Iran’s participation while inviting Saudi Arabia--the main backer of the armed groups--killed all hope for ending the bloody conflict.

The so-called “Friends of Syria” are united in their dislike to the Syrian government and their desire to overthrow Assad. They are not united by their care for the Syrian people. That reality is evident from their financial and military support for armed groups when compared to their reluctance to admit Syrian refugees. The most ardent supporters of the armed factions in Syria have provided no significant support for refugees and admitted none. When they met early this year (January 14) in Kuwait, Western and Arab countries pledged only $2.4 billion to help Syrian refugees, by February 20, only 12% of that money actually came through. Countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who spent nearly $8 billion on arming and supporting the rebels, pledged just $60 million in humanitarian aid and they took in no refugees.
 

September 7, 2013

Why would Putin be happy with or without a U.S. war in Syria?

    Saturday, September 07, 2013   No comments


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Talking to reporters after the conclusion of the G20 meeting, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, declared that any military intervention in Syria without UNSC authorization is an illegal act of aggression. He also said that his country will supply (sell, that is) the Syrian government with weapons to defend itself. This statement, in a sense, clarifies an earlier declaration by his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, when he said that if the U.S. starts a war in Syria, Russia will not be part of it. Some analysts thought that Lavrov’s statement signaled Russia’s readiness to abandon Assad. The increased number of Russia warships near Syria and Putin’s statement reveal a different strategy.

July 19, 2013

Majority, including supporters of National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, want a negotiated solution to the Syrian crisis

    Friday, July 19, 2013   No comments


The Coalition will either negotiate with the regime or it will become irrelevant

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Responding to a non-scientific poll posted on the website of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (the Coalition), 66.2% of the respondents wanted the group to attend the Geneva-2 conference. In fact, 33.6% of the respondents wanted the Coalition to attend without any conditions. Only 30.8% thought that the Coalition should not negotiate. That sentiment reflects a non-scientific vote that ran on a website that is likely to be frequented by sympathizers with the Coalition. It is likely that if a similar poll surveyed people inside Syria, even more respondents would want the regime and the opposition groups to sit down and negotiate a political solution to the crisis. With that in mind, it is bewildering that leaders of the Coalition, including the new president, Ahmed Bin Awinen Asi AlJarba, have refused to enter into negotiations with the Syrian government.

June 17, 2013

Masters of War and the destruction of peace

    Monday, June 17, 2013   No comments


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

After convening his national security team to discuss the crisis in Syria, President Obama decided to officially authorize the transfer of weapons to the Syrian rebels. The decision is a gamble with U.S. credibility. Moreover, the release of information, via anonymous sources, shows the fragility of the U.S. administration’s position and suggests the existence of a troubling disagreement among top administration officials. That is hardly the tone needed before committing the country to a military conflict that has thus far killed 93,000 people in Syria. The half-hearted commitment to solving the crisis in Syria by providing more tools of murder and destruction can only be saved by a clear and demonstrable success. Anything short of forcing Assad to leave office through political or military means cannot be considered success. This mission is more complicated than the 2003 war in Iraq, for many reasons.

May 9, 2013

To compete globally, BRICS nations need reputation, not imitation

    Thursday, May 09, 2013   No comments


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia* 

BRICS nations
The economic, political, and social rise of the Western block of nations was founded on the single most enduring currency: reputation. Reputation, the source of credibility and trust, is the real asset that allows the U.S. to project its stature around the world. BRICS nations cannot rise to prominence by mimicking developed countries. They must build their reputation first. Wealth is only a byproduct of this more precious commodity, and countries who have it can squander it just as emerging economies can acquire it. For either of those results to happen in any country, circumstantial conditions and principled actions must converge.

May 3, 2013

Delimiting a New World Order: Religion, Globalism, and the Syrian Crisis

    Friday, May 03, 2013   No comments

Sovereignty, Legitimacy and the Responsibility to Protect: 
Who is responsible and who is legitimate in Syria?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Syria and the New Middle East
Western leaders’ conflicting statements underscore the unease about change in the Arab world. Unless one believes that diplomats speak unscripted, an earlier statement by U.S. secretary of State, John Kerry becomes extremely significant. He contended that the ultimate goal is to “see Assad and the Syrian opposition sitting at the same table to establish a transitional government as laid out in the Geneva Accords.” Perhaps, partly because of such conflicted statements that leaders from UAE, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey have scheduled one-on-one meetings with President Obama. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is talking about Syria to key world leaders, including the presidents of France, Egypt, Iran, and BRICS countries. Most observers are predicting that the expected Obama-Putin meetings over summer will culminate in a unified stance on Syria. If that is the expectation, it might be too late for world leaders to predetermine the outcome of the Syrian crisis by September. The dynamics on the ground and the entrenched disparate interests of regional and global powers will make it extremely difficult to press the reset button. A simple review of the events of the last 60 days will show the complexity and centrality of the Syrian crisis. Simply put, the management of the war in Syria is no longer in the hands of the Syrians. It is now a global affair.
 

February 23, 2013

Syria is now Iraq, and soon Turkey and Jordan will be Syria…

    Saturday, February 23, 2013   No comments


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

The danger in Syria is not that it is a new kind of a crisis; the danger is that it is becoming a replication of another one. The twin terrorist bomb attack in the capital Damascus on February 21, 2013, which took the lives of at least 100 civilians and injured another 235, echoes what has been happening in Iraq for ten years. This alarming trend shows that the Gulf States, Turkey, and the West have created a beast in Syria that they no longer can control.

The idea that violence can be used to remove “unfriendly” or “unreliable” regimes is a dangerous precedent. The first victim of this logic is the non-violent, civil protest movement that saved Tunisia and Egypt from the kind of destruction seen in Libya and Syria.

February 1, 2013

Revolutions and rebellions and Syria's paths to war and peace

    Friday, February 01, 2013   No comments
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Another massacre in Syria: click  on image to view video

In less than a month, peaceful Tunisian and Egyptian protesters ousted two of the most authoritarian rulers of the Arab world. The human and economic costs: a total of about 1100 people dead (300 in Tunisia and 800 in Egypt) and some decline in economic growth. These were the dignity revolutions. In contrast, the Syrian peaceful uprising quickly turning into armed rebellion is now 22 months old with over 60,000 people (civilians, rebels, security and military officers, women and children) dead, more than 4,000,000 persons displaced from their homes, and destruction estimated at $70 billion. This is now, without doubt, an ideological/sectarian civil war. Short of a genocidal outcome, the only path to peace is that which relies on reconciliation and dialogue. There can be no preconditions because all sides have blood on their hands at this point. This reality, and the staggering numbers cataloging death and destruction might, forces all sides to reassess their previously held positions. Ideologues who wanted to bend the path of a legitimate peaceful revolution to meet their narrow political and sectarian ends can no longer ignore this reality and the state of the country. The fast emerging developments support these hypotheses.



Earlier this week, the president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (the National Coalition), Mouaz al-Khatib, announced that he is ready to talk directly with representatives of the Syrian regime. He insisted however, that the regime releases 160,000 detainees and renew or extend expired passports for Syrians living outside the country. Meeting on Wednesday in Cairo, some members of the National Coalition slammed al-Khatib, accusing him of straying from the Doha agreement, a document on the basis of which the National Coalition was formed.

In the light of the disagreements, one must ask: why did al-Khatib offer to hold direct talks with representatives of the regime? For answers, we must look at the recent events related to the Syrian crisis. I will highlight some of these events that could reconstitute the National Coalition or force the resignation of its current president.

January 27, 2013

Another international conference on Syria and the crisis goes on

    Sunday, January 27, 2013   No comments
Nearly 300 opposition leaders from inside and outside Syria will be attending the Syrian Conference for Democratic and Civilian State to be held Monday and Tuesday, 28th and 29th January, 2013 in the Starling Hotel Geneva. Organizers of the conference complained that many activists and opposition leaders from inside Syria were denied visas. They accused France of working to undermine the efforts of many opposition groups who are not represented in the so-called Syrian Coalition, which France recognized as the “sole and legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

According to organizers, the “Conference aims to promote and encourage a real dialogue between the Syrian democratic opposition structures in an open dialogue about the violence consequences, the sectarian risks and the future of the democratic project. It will encourage cooperation, coordination and synergies between political parties, civil society and social movement inside Syria, and advance work towards a realistic transitional program, for a civil and democratic State in Syria.”

January 5, 2013

News Analysis: A political solution of the Syrian crisis might be in the making

    Saturday, January 05, 2013   No comments
Syria

Since the last disappointing meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria in Morocco, which was not attended by Secretary Clinton, diplomats have been active trying to find common ground for solving the Syrian crisis. Most notably, there has been a change of tone in the statements by the supporters of the opposition forces represented in the National Coalition, also known as the Doha group.

On Sunday, the Saudi foreign minister agreed with his Egyptian counterpart that a “peaceful” transition in Syria is needed to end the bloodshed. Both ministers agreed that the inclusion or exclusion of Assad in any political solution ought to be left to the Syrian people.

Last month, Turkey softened its criticism of Assad and proposed that Assad remains in power for three months, before resigning and be replaced by a government led by a figure from the National Coalition. Reacting to the proposal, Russia announced that it will never support a proposal that would oust Assad from power. Russian diplomats emphasized that Assad’s political future can only be determined by the Syrian people. 

Assad, too, refused to meet with the UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, until the latter clarified what he meant by a “transitional government.” He insisted that the sovereignty of the state with all its current institutions, including the military and security forces, is not up for negotiations.  Assad then sent his deputy foreign minister to Russia and Iran to emphasize this point.

In the light of the stalemate on the military front and the unwavering support of Assad from Russia and China in the UN, some countries started to take Brahimi’s warnings seriously. The sponsors of the Doha opposition groups are now looking for other options.

Turkey for instance, is sending a senior diplomat, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, to Moscow to hold talks with Russian officials. Turkish officials hinted that the diplomat will carry “new proposals for solving the Syrian crisis.” Sinirlioğlu, the Foreign Ministry undersecretary, will visit the Kremlin, where he will meet with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.

This development comes after the Turkish president Abdullah Gül acknowledged that sidestepping Russia was a mistake and that Russia and Iran must be included in formulating a solution for the Syrian crisis. Speaking to journalists recently, Gül declared:

"From the very onset of the crisis, we have always opted for a controlled and orderly change in Syria. As a result of the escalation of events, we made it clear to everyone that Turkey, in unity with the free world, will support the Syrian people in their demands. But from the very beginning, I have argued that both Russia and Iran should be invited to engage with the transition in Syria to prevent further bloodshed. I believe that Russia in particular should be treated properly."

Iran, too, is taking a more active role. Today, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad arrived in Tehran to hold talks with Iranian officials. Mikdad is scheduled to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

Salehi, who is on his way to tour Africa, will make a stop in Egypt before returning home. He is scheduled to meet Egyptian officials including the president and the foreign minister as well as Brahimi.

All these developments suggest that the world community is now determined to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis before the second anniversary of the Syrian uprising that turned violent three months later. This is a crucial year since Assad’s term in office will end up in 2014. If no solution is found now, the country may continue to live in a perpetual state of civil war.

Tomorrow, Assad will deliver a speech. He might provide a clear vision for the way forward. All indications show that he is open to the formation of a transitional government that would include figures from the internal and external oppositions, though he is opposed to having members of the Muslim Brotherhood included. Given the mishap by the president of the National Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, who demanded an apology from Russia, it is more likely that Haytham Manna will play a big role in any transitional government.

The complexity of the Syrian problem and the miscalculations by regional and international players will cause transition to peace to be slow. Nonetheless, an end to the cycle of violence will not be possible without an agreement between the major regional and world powers. Specifically, the United States, Russia, Iran, and Turkey must find common ground. The other countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, will eventually follow the lead of the U.S. But the U.S. is unlikely to make a commitment before the confirmation of a new secretary of state.

 If John Kerry is confirmed, and there is no reason to believe he won’t be, he is likely to change the direction of U.S. foreign policy on Syria. He met with Assad at least five times in the two years before the start of the protests in Syria. He understands Assad better than any other U.S. diplomat and his foreign affairs expertise derived from chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could serve him well.

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