Monday, 13 February, 2012
Tragically, there is one big difference between the Libyan and Syrian revolutions. It is that, for the present . . .[restrict]at least, no one in the outside world is going to give substantial military help to the opposition forces.
Instead the Russian and Chinese Security Council vetoes are flying as diplomatic air cover over the murderous Assad regime. Moscow claims it blocked Morocco’s Security Council resolution because of what happened when, against its better judgement, it backed Resolution 1973 on Libya. This authorised NATO’s intervention to stop Gaddafi’s imminent massacre in rebellious Benghazi.
The Russians then watched, apparently appalled, as NATO’s aerial defence of Libyan citizens morphed into support for the revolutionary militias. This intervention culminated in the final decisive act by French warplanes — October’s assault on the fleeing convoy from Sirte, which lead directly to the capture and killing of Muammar Gaddafi himself.
Today in Libya, the NATO allies and the Arab League including the UAE, which supplied aircraft for the assault on the old regime’s forces, are blessed for their support.
During the eight bloody months that it took to eliminate Qaddafi’s brutal regime, Russia sat on the fence and hedged its bets in case the dictator prevailed. After all, to upgrade his existing Russian weaponry, not long before the revolution he had placed a new armaments order with Moscow worth in excess of $4 billion. This time, with Syria, Moscow is not hedging any bets. It has decided to be Assad’s saviour.
Throughout most of the world — not least in the Arab world — Russia’s continuing support for the Syrian regime is seen as reprehensible and indefensible. Moscow’s position is worsened by the transparent lie that the Kremlin feared a Security Council resolution on Syria would lead to another NATO military intervention.
It is perfectly clear to the Russians and everyone else, that NATO is simply not in a position to mount a further Libya-style operation. In the middle of its campaign here, when it seemed Qaddafi was still able to resist the revolutionary forces and was surviving the aerial bombardment, some NATO members began to get cold feet. The Americans, French and British, with some difficulty, persuaded the reluctant Italians and others to maintain a united front.
In the face of massive financial troubles since the victory, both France and the UK, key players in the aerial assault of Gaddafi, have begun making drastic budget cuts to all areas of public expenditure including military. Indeed, so deep are UK cuts that British top brass have warned the Cameron government that another Libyan-style intervention would be impossible.
The only NATO country with the money and reach to give military support to the Syrian revolution is the United States. Yet the very last thing that President Obama would contemplate is his re-election year would be another foreign military involvement. Therefore the awful reality is that no one, with the unlikely exception of NATO member Turkey, is going to intervene to give military support to the Free Syrian Army.
So why has Moscow made the cardinal error of blocking a UN resolution, which because it came from virtually the entire international community, would have had great moral power, but would never have led to a repeat of the military intervention that gave Libya its freedom?
Russia’s long political alliance with the Assad family dates back to 1970 when Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez, seized power in a bloodless coup. It was enhanced two years later President Anwar Sadat threw the Russians out of Egypt, which the Kremlin had come to regard as a client state. Syria’s importance grew further when it permitted the construction of Russian naval facilities at Latakia and Tartus, which are still functioning.
Yet the apparent fixation with hanging on to two Mediterranean naval bases, of dubious strategic use, by supporting an internationally discredited and murderous regime in Damascus, demonstrates Moscow’s skewed judgement. The Assad regime is doomed. Russian admirals might as well already be packing up their Syrian facilities. By extension, doomed also are Russia’s immediate hopes of enjoying a profitable role in the Arab world. They have already gone too far out on the limb of a rotten and tottering tree.
By contrast, the Chinese have been more canny. Moscow will have been piqued, if not alarmed, to see that Beijing is beginning to shift ground on Syria. On Thursday Chinese deputy foreign minister Zhai Jun welcomed a Syrian opposition delegation led by Hassan Mana, at the start of a four-day visit.
The Chinese have no strategic involvement but extensive commercial interests in the Middle East. They can see the way the wind is blowing. Therefore very soon, Moscow, in its attempted defence of the deeply indefensible Assad regime, will find itself standing reviled and stupidly alone. [/restrict]