Saturday, June 09, 2012

Could Russia be Syria's Savior?

With the news of the latest massacre to take place in Syria since UN observers began "observing" the failed implementation of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan, there's talk again about "what to do" - and, predictably, much speculation about how Russia and China might act if the Western allies unite to try and prevent a wide-scale Syrian civil war.

Russia and China are opposed to Western military intervention in Syria, but at the same time, they aren't being very helpful when it comes to efforts at ending the violence. Russia has much more to lose from a potential American/European military involvement in Syria, what with a Russian naval base on the country's Mediterranean coast and all. It is Russia, then, that should be determined to do something.

So, here's an idea: If Moscow truly desires the bloodshed in Syria to end, why doesn't Russia itself intervene, and impose its own form of regime change? I can't imagine Assad would be so stupid as to order his forces to take on Russian troops if the latter were to arrive and then surround his presidential palace with orders not to leave until the "Butcher of Damascus" steps down and goes into exile.

Russia could, then - with the blessings of the United Nations - oversee an orderly transition and the installment of new leadership that, we can assume, would still be on very good terms with Moscow. It would likely not be a democracy, but then, there was never any guarantee anyway that the Arab Spring would result in a bunch of Western-friendly democracies dotting North Africa and the Middle East.

Syria could, then, still receive shipments of arms from Russia. Russia's naval presence in Tartus wouldn't be threatened. Reform of a certain nature - say, a scaling down of the Alawite domination of the Syrian government - would probably be necessary, but with Russia keeping the peace - and/or dictating the terms - it isn't difficult to imagine the bloodshed ending and some sort of peace prevailing.

Such an intervention could be seen as a "humanitarian" action, as well as a signal to the West - and, we mustn't forget, China, too - that, whatever its faults and weaknesses, Russia still means business. Since the end of the Cold War, America has intervened in its "neighborhood" when "friendly" nations have gone too far off the reservation. Syria is in Russia's neighborhood, and all is definitely not well, there.

Moscow should take a cue from us.

Yes, an operation like this would be fraught with peril - it's not just "rebels" and "the government" in play. There are more shades of gray than I care to go into. And it is doubtful that with Russia's Chechen record, Syrian Islamists would welcome Moscow with open arms. But once civil war - the kind which could be sparked by Assad's intransigence - is averted, Russia could pull the troops back.

With further bloodshed averted and some respect gained, Russia could have increased leverage in all sorts of areas on the global stage. Russia might even, eventually, prod a post-Assad-but-still-in-Russia's-orbit Syria into making an agreement with Israel which sees the Jewish state comfortable with returning the Golan Heights to Damascus. That's a long shot, of course, but a man can dream, right?

Again, this scenario isn't the most ideal one overall for the U.S. and our allies at the moment, but there are fewer better options. We can't assume that a Western-led military intervention in Syria would lead to a repeat of the Libya scenario...especially with Hizbollah, Israel, et al, all likely playing a role in Assad's "doomsday scenario" calculations. But neither is sitting on our hands a worthy pursuit.

If they aren't, at least, even imagining or entertaining the possibility of this kind of military intervention by Russia within the walls of the Kremlin, then I'd be very surprised. If I could think of it, then they could think of it, too...and then not only think of it, but also do something with it. Tens of thousands have already been killed, and the UN has been as inactive about Syria as it is active about Israel. 

The UN won't do anything. 

Russia can.

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