Russia’s end-game in Syria questioned at Beirut Institute Summit

From the CIA’s David Petraeus to the ICC’s Fatou Bensouda, Putin’s objectives in Syria are called into doubt

Ismaeel Naar
Ismaeel Naar - Al Arabiya News
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Former U.S. deputy national security advisor Elliott Abrams on Sunday described Russia’s intervention as Syria is an “embarrassment for Russia itself,” adding that it had “intervened on behalf of a Syrian regime."

Speaking on the final day of the Beirut Institute Summit in Abu Dhabi, Abrams was a panelist at discussion hosted by Al Arabiya News Channel. The session discussed whether global and regional powers can contribute to a positive reconfiguration of the Arab world.

Abrams comments came after Russia intensified its air campaign in Syria in recent days, with 64 sorties hitting 55 targets as of Saturday, Russian news agencies reported.


Joining Abrams on the panel was Vitaly Naumkin, President of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, who defended Russia’s air campaign.

“We don't call our actions in Syria an intervention,” he said. “We are participating in Syria to protect the government … The spread of extremism in Syria affects Russia as well,” Naumkin said.

He also strongly denied that his country’s objective was to simply weaken Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s opposition. “This is absolutely not true,” he said.

During the panel discussion that followed, retired American general and former CIA director David Petreus reiterated the Obama administration’s stance that the international community has to “defend, support and enable opposition groups on the ground that are inclusive and reject extremism.”

The session Petraeus was speaking at questioned the region’s next steps by asking, “Where does the Arab world go from here?”


The session was moderated by CNN’s Becky Anderson, who probed the panel on whether it was time to rethink if the Arab world should work with the Assad regime to reestablish security after previously stalled approaches.

“I don’t believe there is a long term solution with Assad,” said Philip Gordon, former White House coordinator for the Middle East.

“As long as Assad is there, he will be a motivating factor for terrorists,” he added.

But in the short run, Gordon told the summit that Arabs can work with Assad on one thing: his departure.

“His short-term departure can be made as a prerequisite for other measures to de-escalate the conflict. It is not going to be the ideal outcome, but it’s been one the U.S. has been pursuing for four years. But there’s less of a chance now of that happening compared to a couple of years ago,” Gordon said.

So what’s the end game in Syria and how do political circles move forward? U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag says the world needs to get back to square one.


“Go back to the negotiating table and the Geneva communiqué. But more importantly, the center of the attention has to be focused on the Syrian people. We don’t know much about what they want, what they need,” she said.

Panelists at the summit said that Assad could have had a chance at political survival had he not committed “crimes against humanity.”

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Court of Justice Fatou Bensouda said that while the focus is on political and economic solutions, it all boils down to “instilling the mindset of justice.”“Peace and stability cannot exist when people are committing war crimes. There must be the will to hold people accountable, only then can we achieve peace,” Bensouda said.

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