Today, representatives of the European Union begin negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 29th EU-Russia summit. European leadership is expected to pressure Moscow to assume a tougher posture towards the Assad regime in Syria.
The talks come a little more than a week after the international community's collective conscience was shocked by the massacre at Houla. More than 100 people -- more than half of whom were women and children -- were killed by artillery shelling and government militia (known as the shabiha) who executed civilians in a manner more up close and personal.
Two days ago, the U.S. State Department confirmed reports of mass graves dug near the Taldou neighborhood of the Syrian city. By this point, even China's vocally condemning the Assad regime, so appalling was the systematic violence conducted against innocents. Russia managed to denounce the carnage without pointing any fingers.
For his part, President Bashar al-Assad took to the airwaves for the first time since January to decry the bloodshed, blaming it on foreign terrorists while denying any responsibility for the atrocities. Despite stiffening isolation, the Alawite premiere still holsters sufficient temerity to condemn "assault" by the international community, because of Syria's tradition of "resistance" against Israel and the West.
So why did I preface such ridiculous remarks with mention of a summit-series between European higher-ups and their colleagues in Russia?
Three basic facts of this conflict: 1) Violence in Syria will only be stopped by decisions made in Moscow; 2) This will occur when Russia decides the Assad regime is in terminal failure, and -- consequently -- Russian interests in the Mideast are facing collapse; and, finally 3) The conversation that's happening in Washington about what to do with Syria doesn't have anything to do with a growing humanitarian crisis.
Make no mistake -- this is all about Assad's strategic relationship with Iran. Syria serves as international conveyor-belt for those tools of terror deployed by the Islamic Republic to its militant proxies in Gaza and southern Lebanon. The collapse of the Assad regime would critically undermine Iran's ability to threaten Israel's security.
Despite this fact -- or perhaps because of "success" in Libya -- the authorization, justification and obligation of military intervention remain problematic. Questions surrounding the very nature of sovereignty, the framework of international law and the significance of human rights have led to diverse perspectives at to our "responsibility to protect."
So when the Obama regime -- or for that matter, President Romney -- decides it's time to get serious about "political transition" in Syria, recognize that determination will depend upon Russian support at the Security Council for effectual action.
For Moscow, the Assad regime is ultimately disposable. Its interests aren't specifically political, cultural or religious -- quite the contrary, they're purely economic. Russia requires three things from Syria -- naval access to the warm water port of Tartus, maintenance of trade relations, and a continued consumption of aging Russian arms.
The removal of the Assad regime assures a critical blow to Tehran, a victory for human rights, and a demonstration of post-Cold War collaboration between Moscow and the West. And all of this is ultimately possible (absent the American military or arming shadow militaries!), particularly if international leaders are able to goad Russia into behaving like the superpower it still claims to be.
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