Prince Saud Al-Faisal called on the Russians to reconsider their position on Syria, urging them to support the peaceful transfer of power in Damascus. A White House spokesman said that Washington has begun to prepare for the post-Assad period, at the same time that the deputy Russian foreign minister said that his country does not consider Assad remaining in power a prerequisite for settling the conflict in Syria. So the question that must be asked here is: What is happening?
It is clear from all of these important statements that there is something of a consensus regarding the failure of Kofi Annan’s initiative, particularly as the Saudi foreign minister said, “We have begun to lose hope in the possibility of reaching a solution via the Annan initiative, and if the U.N. Security Council fails to take a decision under Article VII then this (initiative) will not be implemented.” Indeed, Annan himself expressed his pessimism about what is happening in Syria, announcing that he is frustrated, whilst Assad’s most recent speech is more important than all of this as it confirmed that there is no hope of the tyrant of Damascus cooperating with any diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, for his killing machine has not stopped since the beginning of the revolution more than 18 months ago. From here, it seems that the Arabs and the international community are now planning to take diplomatic action once more, this time via Russia, particularly if we recall the leaked US reports that Moscow could play a role in Syria, along the lines of the Yemeni initiative, which secured Saleh’s exit from power.
The question that must be asked here is: Even if Moscow truly intends to change its position on Syria, as Prince Saudi Al-Faisal and indeed the international community has called for, is Moscow even capable of securing Assad’s exit from power? I doubt it! However the importance of Russia’s cooperation today is that this represents the least-costly option, whilst it ensures action that possesses international legitimacy to deal with the tyrant of Damascus. So, Russia merely taking a positive attitude toward the Syrian crisis, moving away from supporting the tyrant, will represent a form of pressure on Assad and his followers at home, for at this point Assad will be without international cover, particularly within the U.N. Security Council itself, which means that it would be possible to return to the Security Council once more and place Annan’s initiative under Article VII, as called for by Prince Saud Al-Faisal and the international community. This would mean that there would be a real and effective international resolution to end the Assad era, or to take other practical steps in this regard, and this is a message that Assad’s allies at home will well understand.
Therefore, simply returning to the UN Security Council with Russian support — or neutrality — will open a number of possibilities, including securing the establishment of buffer zones under an international umbrella, as well as the use of force against the tyrant of Damascus. This will all lead to more defections from Assad’s military apparatus, which could facilitate an internal coup against Assad, and I have always believed that this is precisely how things in Damascus will end. Whilst operating under the umbrella of the U.N. Security Council will also accelerate the collapse of Assad’s fragile institutions, and this would be a conclusive message that there is no hope for Assad’s survival.
This is what is hoped for from the Russian change (on Syria). However, according to the present situation, there must be an alternative plan to deal with Assad, and as we have stated repeatedly, we must move forward with regards an alliance of the willing, for Assad’s killing machine has not stopped, and this is something that we must always bear in mind.
The writer is editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. This article was first published in Arab News on June 6, 2012