We are often accused of defending the Syrian regime. I’d like to say straight away that I’m not an advocate for the regime. Moreover, I don’t even represent the Russian position, but rather my own expert opinion.
I’d like to note the mistakes the Syrian government made two years ago. It should have tried to envision what could happen, to consider the international situation and domestic and foreign factors, and to be flexible. Russia has formally criticized Syria’s actions from the very start. That said, public opinion in Russia has been inflamed by attempts to destabilize Syria by providing armed support to the forces that are battling the government. The fighting has lasted for two years now, and it is painful for us to witness the results. We love Syria. It’s one of the most beautiful countries in the Middle East.
It is not for us to judge the failings of the system of government in Syria. No country is above criticism. Today it is clear that things are not going well in Syria primarily because of the significant foreign interference in its domestic affairs and the inability of actors inside and outside Syria to agree on how to stop the civil war that is in fact underway.
How can we achieve what was agreed upon in Geneva – encouraging the sides to enter into dialogue? The prerequisites for dialogue are there. I doubt there is a single sensible Syrian who is okay with what’s happening in his country. But it seems Syria is being judged by double standards, which has always been the curse of global policy. Syria is treated differently from other countries with the same or even much worse human rights records. Why are different standards applied to Syria? Just because someone doesn’t like Bashar al-Assad’s policy? The demand that the president step down is creating an impasse. There are rational and realistic people in the opposition, but they cannot take control of the situation, because the opposition is fragmented. Extremists are gaining more and more influence, and the greater their influence, the stronger the resistance from those who do not want an alternative.
But there is no solution except to reach an agreement and make peace. The Russian position is aimed at finding an alternative through reconciliation rather than the destruction of one side by the other. A painful breakup of the system will result in a massacre. The plight of the refugees fleeing the war – not the regime – is particularly sad.
To begin with, the external players should come to terms with their Arab partners. Regrettably, this is not always possible because they are poles apart on some issues. There is little chance for reconciliation, but there is still a chance, and it should be taken. We hope our Syrian partners think about the future of their people and country. The government is said to be open to dialogue, but opposition members cannot seem to agree on this point. Let’s hope for the best.
Veniamin Popov, Director of the Center for the Partnership of Civilizations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO):
The situation in Syria is obviously deadlocked, with neither side able to win a military victory. The country, often called the heart of the Arab world, is being destroyed. At a recent conference in Cairo, Syrians, including opposition members, spoke bitterly about what’s happening in their country. They said if things continue this way, Syria will be destroyed and set back decades.
Syria is a complex country with many ethnic minorities that are extremely worried that Islamists could take over. I am surprised by the short-sightedness of my Western colleagues. Hostilities must be stopped and talks started before it is too late. If the sides do not sit down at the negotiating table, Syria will be consumed by civil war and destruction, which will spill over into neighboring countries. If catastrophe befalls Syria, not only its neighbors but the entire Arab world will suffer. Syria has often come up with new ideas in the past, but it is hard to predict what will happen next. We are on the brink of disaster.
It is necessary to reach a political settlement. Russia proposed a plan in Geneva to form a transitional government, which was adopted. There is a real foundation for holding talks. The Russian position is well known – we support engagement with the opposition. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his deputy Mikhail Bogdanov regularly meet with opposition members. It has become clear after two years of conflict that only a negotiated end is possible. The faster the opposing parties realize this, the sooner they will start to cooperate and the greater the opportunity to save the lives of their compatriots. Russia is doing all it can to encourage everyone to cooperate.
I’m worried about the fate of the numerous refugees. I do not understand the myopic position of some Western countries. The Financial Times wrote recently that the invasion of Iraq was the worst diplomatic blunder since WWII. Do you want to read the same about Syria? Because that’s where we’re headed.
Finally, Russia and China have used their veto right to prevent a foreign invasion of Syria three times. This triple veto signals the end of the unipolar world – it does not exist anymore. Some countries find it hard to accept, but we are living in a multipolar world. The faster they accept this, the more lives we will save in Syria.