Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Russia's stance toward Syria

By Boris Dolgov (China Daily) Updated: 2012-02-27 08:04

Russia vetoed the United Nations Security Council resolution, which sought to blame President Bashar al-Assad for the violence against civilians in Syria and urged him to step down, because it did not correspond to the real situation in Syria, where the majority of Syrian people, 60 percent, support his government.

I saw for myself demonstrations by tens of thousands of people who support President al-Assad when I visited Syria in August 2011 and in January 2012. Many of the international media, such as CNN, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, are waging an information war against Syria. They portray al-Assad's regime as suppressing the people and shooting peaceful protestors. This is not true. The real cause of the violence in Syria is the terrorist activities of some anti-government groups, which are armed and financed from abroad. This has already resulted in the deaths of 3,000 civilians and 2,000 soldiers and policemen.

If passed, the UN Security Council resolution would have given the leaders of NATO countries the excuse to begin military intervention in Syria. The consequences of such intervention, as was shown by NATO's military intervention in Libya, would be the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians, and the opportunity for radical Islamic groups to increase their influence in the country. This would likely lead to civil war or the disintegration of Syria into five or more small states divided on religious and national lines. It would also result in the seizure of the Syrian arsenal by radical Islamic groups, who could then use them against the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and against Russia.

The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Israel, as well as Turkey and the Arabic monarchies of the Persian Gulf, which now play a leading role in the League of Arab States, pursue a policy of pressuring the Syrian leadership to stand down and support the external Syrian National Council and armed opposition groups in Syria with the aim of overthrowing the al-Assad regime.

The Western countries and Israel consider Syria an ally of Iran and the supporter of radical Palestinian organizations, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Regime change in Syria would also pave the way for eventual military intervention in Iran by NATO and Israel.

Turkey and the Arabic monarchies of the Persian Gulf have approximately the same policy toward Iran and Syria. The Sunni leadership of Turkey competes with the Shiite leadership of Iran for hegemony in the Middle East. Turkey's leaders originally belonged to the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood and they sympathize with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood which opposes al-Assad's leadership, the majority of whom are Shiites of the Alawite sect. The Sunni Muslim leaders of the Arabic monarchies of the Persian Gulf fear the expansion of Shiite Iran's influence in their countries. So they also support the anti-government Sunni armed groups in Syria.

If Syria followed the Libyan experience of foreign military intervention it could lead to the disintegration of Syria and destabilization of the Middle East. In particular, it would aggravate the conflict between the Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon and it could increase the influence of Islamist armed groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the branches of Al-Qaida. Then NATO and Israel could try to extend their military intervention in Lebanon in order to suppress Hezbollah, and Iran in order to destroy its nuclear program. This would lead to an all-out war in the Middle East.

The politics of Russia toward Syria is based on their long-time friendship and on the cooperation in the economical, political, military, cultural and humanitarian fields. Russia's stance with regard this Syrian crisis is to save the Syrian people from the eventual foreign military intervention. Russia supports al-Assad's government because he is carrying out real political and social reforms. Such as the adoption of the laws of the general election, and multipartism system, of the media, and of the municipal elections. The referendum on a new constitution took place on Sunday, Feb 26. Then parliamentary elections on the basis of the new Constitution will take place in May. Russia's stance toward Syria is not conjuncture. It is based on the strategic national interests of Russia. Russia seeks to prevent foreign military intervention, which would result in civilian casualties and a humanitarian disaster.

The author is a senior researcher of the Centre for the Arabic and Islamic Studies of the Institute of the Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

(China Daily 02/27/2012 page9)

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