THE BLOG

Syria: Would Putin Pull a 'Pristina'?

It was fitting that France, as the former mandatory power, and whose ambassador to Lebanon, Louis Delamare, was assassinated in a Syrian-sponsored operation in 1981, should take the lead in recognizing the new, amalgamated opposition group fighting the Assad regime, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

The French government of François Hollande is inviting other European Union countries, and even hopefully the EU as a whole, to join it in recognizing the new group as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

In all the talk about escalating the effort to oust President Bashar al-Assad that has emerged following the re-election of President Barack Obama, there seems to be a notable void when it comes to considering what the Russian reaction might be.

This time, the Russian position is different from what it was in 2011 when Russia agreed (to its later regret) to a UN Security Council resolution authorizing intervention in Libya. At that time, President Dmitry Medvedev, differing with Putin, declared that he did not consider that the UN resolution was wrong.

This time Putin, who has switched jobs with Medvedev, is now in charge both de facto and de jure. Russia is coming off a a series of defeats, not only in Libya but also in Kosovo before that. Putin is certainly not disposed to doing any favors for the Western allies.

Might Putin, if Bashar's regime became more threatened, be tempted to pull another Pristina? -- the moment in 1999 when Russian troops, in support of their Serbian allies, sent a column in to occupy Pristina airport, in Kosovo. The Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR), Wesley Clark, was in favor of blocking the runway against Russian reinforcements, but the leading British military officer in place there, Michael Jackson, countermanded Clarke, and a potentially dangerous East-West confrontation was avoided.

It will take more than France to turn the tide in Syria. It will take Britain and others in the West, including the United States, as well as the Arab League (although the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have already recognized the new Syrian opposition movement, as has Turkey).

But one must not underestimate the contrarian force represented by the Russia of Vladimir Putin. He may or may not be concerned by being on the wrong side of the Sunni-dominated Arab Spring, but he certainly hasn't shown it thus far.

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