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Putin moves closer to eliminating Assad

Jamal Khashoggi

Published: Updated:

Let's stop beating the drums of war in Syria. I have written many articles since the crisis began there and repeated that power is the only form of diplomacy Bashar al-Assad understands. Let's try the Russian initiative calling for depriving the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons in exchange for not targeting it with a U.S. military strike. Let's try it, not because the Arabs don't have another choice as long as the West is hesitant regarding decisive military intervention, but because it may be Russia's last hug of its friend – a hug that will eventually end him. How so?

Depriving the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons calls for a protocol that specifies the international inspectors' tasks, time and jurisdictions. This is why France tried to have the U.N. Security Council issue this decision in order to specify a certain time frame for implementing it and to threaten with punishing the Syrian regime under Chapter 7 in case it stalls implementing it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected this as he's in a state of ecstasy and pride after hearing political analysts talk about his power and after his fame increased at the expense of the hesitant Obama's popularity. But in the end, there must be some sort of protocol that specifies the mechanism of depriving the Syrian regime of chemical weapons. Negotiations will be with Russia and not with the Syrian regime. This is a serious indication of the inevitable end of the regime that lost its shadow. The decision of its survival has become in the hands of a faraway foreign party. And the foreigner cannot be a zealous patriot even if it appeared as a zealous defender. Syria, under the reign of Assad, has become a mere "ball" in the Russian court – a ball played to score goals for Russia.

Living and breathing power

The chemical weapons handover must have a time frame. Afterwards, there must be an agreement to specify the locations of chemical weapons' storage and factories. After that, they must be dismantled and transferred outside Syria. Russian maps and information along with those the regime will provide must be compared with the accurate information available from the Americans and the French. The latter two will of course use the accurate information from the Israelis.

Syria, under the reign of Assad, has become a mere "ball" in the Russian court – a ball played to score goals for Russia.

Jamal Khashoggi

The Israelis are the most concerned people in following up on the chemical weapons program, which late president Hafez al-Assad established and which Bashar al-Assad expanded as a weapon of deterrence and balance with Israel. The miserable family of Assad and its regime no longer has any forms of deterrence or resistance. The last fig leaf fell off as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem announced from Moscow last Tuesday that the regime is ready to give up its chemical weapons. He said Syria is willing "to reveal the locations of our chemical weapons. It's ready to stop producing them and to show these facilities to representatives from Russia, other countries and the U.N."

There was a similar moment for the Syrian regime in 1988 when Hafez al-Assad admitted to the Turks that head of the Kurdistan Workers' Party Abdullah Ocalan is present in Syria. Assad pushed Ocalan away from Syria after he saw a queue of Turkish tanks on the borders with Turkey.

This regime lives thanks to power, and it is by power that it negotiates and makes concessions. Then it dies. Therefore, everyone who rejects the American strike against the Syrian regime under the excuse that they are concerned over the "Arab Syrian Army" are just looking for an excuse justifying their lack of desire that the Syrian revolution wins. The Syrian army fell and lost is nationalist role the minute it directed its weapons towards its people.

Trusting Syria?

After comparing maps and information, the searching operations must begin as no one trusts the Syrian regime or its Russian ally. Therefore, it makes no sense that the U.S. accepts "to place the weapons under the supervision of the Russian Federation." The U.S. and the rest of the free world countries, and perhaps the U.N., must call for completely ridding the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons and their factories. But Syria is in a state of war. Thus, there must be a call to cease fire so international inspectors can perform their duties. But a ceasefire is tantamount to the regime's suicide. The revolution was peaceful to begin with and it may thus restore it its peacefulness as people may protest all over again demanding that Bashar al-Assad and everyone with him leave (or they may prefer that Assad be executed now). In this case, the Russians must force their ally to cease fire or else their initiative will collapse and the American president and everyone with him, whether Arabs or westerners, will be back to the square of a military strike.

I want to be optimistic and say that international parties will make pressure towards achieving a peaceful solution. The military solution, despite most Syrians' welcoming it due to their desperation of reaching any understanding with the Syrian regime, will lead to shedding more blood due to the battles between the regime and the rebels that will intensify once international strikes are launched. Therefore, what's best for the Syrian people is that they head to Geneva to negotiate the transfer of power and the establishment of a transitional cabinet. But experience says otherwise. Bashar al-Assad's regime is full of hatred and folly. Assad decided that everyone who opposes him is a terrorist who deserves to die. Therefore, it's not expected that he will initiate a negotiable solution unless the Russians, who are his decision-makers, pressure him or they may just leave him to face the fate he deserves.

The most important transformation that happened last week is that negotiations began to be held with Russia. The latter did not accept to negotiate to save its small ally until after it saw how serious the Americans are. Many will rush and say that a deal will be sealed between Washington and Moscow to resolve the Syrian crisis. But the distance is far between Assad remaining in power and his departure. This is why Putin will eliminate him either in compliance with the international community's pressure or because there's nothing more he can do after he exhausted all his efforts.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on September 14, 2013.

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Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi

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