The Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin advised the West to learn a lesson from the death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya at the hands of an extremist Islamist group, saying: “Political regimes accused of dictatorship are overthrown. They are replaced by extremist forces that then turn their back and sometimes turn their gun barrels against those who supported them”.
Here Rogozin is clearly making a reference to Syria, and the objective is to intimidate the Westerners by recalling what happened in Libya, where the West played an active role in ending Gaddafi’s rule. The Russians are now doing everything in the hope of preserving the al-Assad regime.
Of course, we could shed a tear for the late King of Afghanistan for example, but we cannot for al-Assad of Syria or Qaddafi of Libya. These two regimes have appalled the world and spread terrorism for forty years. Therefore, the worst-case scenario that we can imagine as a result of their collapse will never be as bad as al-Assad or Qaddafi.
Rogozin explains Russia’s obstinate stance by saying that “chaos reigns” in international affairs, whereby “the foundations, which retained peace and security on the planet in the post-war time, [have been] thrown down”.
Yet what foundations have remained on this planet since the Second World War? Police states such as East Germany and Romania collapsed two decades ago, and no less than 14 countries have escaped the orbit of the former Soviet Union.
The Russian official’s rhetoric about peace on our “planet” is at least consistent with the argument put forth by Fouad Ajami, a retired professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, in his new book “The Syrian Rebellion”, which al-Majalla magazine provides a summary of in its current issue. Ajami claims that Russia and China exercised their veto in the UN Security Council -- against resolutions on Syria -- because in the minds of the Chinese was the subject of Tibet, a region that they occupy, whilst the Russians were thinking of Chechnya.
This is what “peace” means for them. The Russians, and likewise the Chinese, fear that the day will come when there is talk of foreign interference in their own domestic affairs [Tibet and Chechnya]. Yet by protecting the al-Assad regime they are not dispelling the idea and the ethics of intervention; quite the opposite in fact. What al-Assad is doing is continuous mass murder on an appalling scale, prompting even those who were opposed to international intervention to now support and justify it for the first time since the Second World War. Even those who were against the intervention of NATO forces in Libya would now support such a measure in Syria.
What is most important is to stop the killing machine, i.e. Bashar al-Assad and his forces. Most Arabs were always against the idea of intervention, especially after the invasion of Iraq, but now they have begun to implore the international community to intervene under any guise to stop the tragedy. This is all because of Russia’s stance, not only because it opposes intervention, but because it is also supporting the regime - with arms and expertise - against unarmed citizens, depriving the Syrians of even the establishment of a restricted fly zone.
Russia’s enthusiasm to defend the al-Assad regime is unprecedented in our region. The Russians are putting their history, reputation and interests at risk, and this really remains a mystery. The more I read about the stance the more I become confused because it does not protect Russia or China, it does not prevent the fall of al-Assad, it will not bring about peace and it will not eliminate extremist groups.
The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 3, 2012