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Moscow's Hesitancy to Support the Arab Uprisings

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Russia is nowadays in the driver's seat at the UN Security Council -- with China in the back seat along with African countries and sometimes Lebanon -- leading opposition to holding Arab regimes accountable and arousing resentment of Arabs who once believed that Russia and China stood alongside the people, not against them. Such sentiments may have played a role in the radical transformation of Russia's position towards Colonel Muammar Gaddafi during the G8 Summit in Deauville, realizing that this angry new generation might soon become the ruling generation in the Arab region when the revolutions peek. Most likely, however, the Russian leadership came to realize that the Gaddafi regime has become a thing of the "past" and that NATO did not quite get into a quagmire but rather began the countdown to victory in favor of the Libyan National Transitional Council that represents the "future". That is why Russia has undergone a 180-degree turnaround in terms of its positions regarding Libya. On Syria, on the other hand, Moscow is still trapped in its obstinacy and resistance although it has insinuated from Deauville that it is preparing to reconsider its position. This indicates that Russia is observing the events in Syria not just from the viewpoint of the traditional Russian/Syrian strategic relationship but also on the basis of the dictates of the new and unexpected developments on the ground in Syria. This is in addition to Moscow's observing how the United States, Europe, Syria's Arab neighbors and Iran are tackling the Syrian question. Similarly, regarding Yemen, Russia is sending out indications that it does not want the Security Council to "interfere" in Yemen's affairs terming events there as "an internal matter". There too, Russia might be forced to backtrack based on the dictates of events and developments on the ground. It is no longer possible for Russia or any other major power to sit at the Security Council table -- or at the drawing table of national strategic policies -- to dictate to Arabs or other people what it deems appropriate. The situation is different now as Russia, China, UK, France and the United States are all being monitored and held accountable by public opinion as well as by humanitarian and legal Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). This does not apply only to issues that find their way to the Security Council as a result of Arab uprisings. It also applies to issues that might find their way to the United Nations such as the battle for the "recognition" of Palestine as an Independent State.

The Palestinian strategy aims to gather international support for their state, to be established alongside the State of Israel on the basis of the 1967 armistice lines. But the uproar ensuing from the misinterpretation of this process and the obscurity of the Europe and Russian positions gives rise to the need for closer examination and raises many questions in this new era of accountability -- an era launched by the Arab awakening. Perhaps the easiest way to understand the Russian, Chinese and African stances is through the Libyan issue, despite its numerous complications. Moscow views what happened at the Security Council regarding Libya as a coup against precedents and traditions to such a point that it was driven to it out of sheer embarrassment and compulsion. The same applies to China and to the African countries at the Security Council: South Africa, Gabon and Nigeria. Though Lebanon took part in this "coup," so to speak, regarding Libya, it stands today at the opposite of what it did back then, perhaps against its will, because the matter involves Syria. Moscow views the operations carried out by NATO in Libya as having politically -- not legally -- overstepped the authority granted by the Security Council Resolution. Consequently, it criticized, protested and threatened not to allow such a precedent to be repeated again. Nevertheless, the success of NATO's operations -- albeit limited so far -- has made Moscow reconsider its stances and its interests so that it may not seem to the Libyan people that Russia is in collusion with the Qaddafi regime. That is why Moscow finally told Gaddafi in the words of the Russian president: Step down.

Meanwhile, China has stood behind Russia on this issue -- as it does on most Middle Eastern issues with the exception of Sudan, which it has made a priority for oil-related reasons. As for the African countries, they have acted to their own detriment in their hesitation and in terms of the divisions among them, some of which are due to the "debt" they owe to Gaddafi. However, the failure of South African President Jacob Zuma initiative -- who visited Tripoli twice and did not visit Benghazi once -- has brought an end to patience towards Africa. That visit made clear that Muammar Gaddafi would not step down from power and would not leave. It highlighted Gaddafi's bizarre conviction that he is merely a "symbol" and does not hold a "post", which puts him above accountability and decision-making, as he says. Today, there is no way to decrease the human cost in Libya or to prevent partitioning except by NATO resolving to quickly settle the battle. The more the battle in Libya is prolonged, the more atrocities will take place, and the number of victims will rise, the bloodshed will escalate and the likelihood of partitioning Libya will increase.

The rebels in Libya are required to abide by international laws more than the Libyan regime itself is. If they commit war crimes or crimes against humanity, or act treacherously by mimicking the practices of the regime they are overthrowing, then they will have no right to demand recognition as an alternative to this regime. The opposition in Libya is in a far better situation than the opposition in Syria where protesters put their lives at risk without military support or funds against frozen assets- as is the case with Libyan rebels. Libyan opposition has gathered international support, including Russia's own reversal on its stances, while Syrian opposition enjoys no such luxury. The light shines bright at the end of the Libyan tunnel, but it flickers dimly at the end of the Syrian tunnel. In spite of this, the Syrian people are achieving victories that were not only unexpected but in fact beyond the realm of imagination. Russia, China and others have been forced to take into consideration the events taking place on the Syrian scene. They, as well as others, owe a debt now to Hamza Al-Khatib, the thirteen year old Syrian boy who forced them all to eagerly rush to catch up with the new reality: The Arab arena imposing dictates on the UN Security Council -- including the US Administration -- not the other way around.

U.S. officials say that their resolve is not less vehement than that of the Europeans on Syria but that their caution is due to differences in tactics. They feel it is not useful to embarrass Russia and China and to thrust them in a corner where they would be forced to use their veto against any Security Council resolution regarding Syria. The fact of the matter is that Washington appears to Damascus hesitant to act resolutely with the Syrian regime especially as the sanctions imposed by the U.S. were not comprehensive and the U.S. Ambassador remains in Damascus (despite being "suspended" by a Syrian decision). Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that he does not want Libya's model to be applied to Syria for many reasons, most importantly his insistence on not excluding Russia from any decision taken on the issue of Syria. The Libyan case has left a bitter taste in Russia's mouth. Russia insists on being at the forefront of the international strategy on the Syrian issue including in both its Iranian and Israeli dimension. This is why it is behaving defiantly and wagering on the loss of Western resolve towards Damascus. Russia is monitoring developments in Iran, Israel and Lebanon and is trying to play its cards without damaging her options irreversibly.

Russia -- and with it the United States, Europe, China and Arab countries -- is observing what is happening in Iran in terms of the repercussions on Syria. One veteran analyst on the Islamic Republic of Iran and on the struggle between the Mullahs and the Iranian "Nationalists" led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that there is today in Tehran "a two-headed eagle; and a two-headed eagle cannot fly". In Ahmadinejad's view, the religious path in Iran lacks popular support, and therefore the rule of the Mullahs must be ended. This is why, according to the same veteran analyst, Ahmadinejad is "cleansing" the government of Mullahs. The majority of Iran's ambassadors are not of the Mullahs with the exception of the Ambassador in Damascus. The army is also on Ahmadinejad's side, out of fear that eroding support for the Mullahs might lead to weakening the ruling regime in Tehran, according to the expert.

The world's major powers are divided over the Iranian-Syrian formula. Some of them consider that taking determined action towards the Syrian regime will rein in Iran in Lebanon. Others believe that pressuring the Syrian regime into a corner will result in an Iranian escalation in Lebanon through Hezbollah, flaring up the front against Israel. There are also those who point to the secret relationship between Israel and Iran and to Israeli efforts with the U.S. Congress to stop pressure on the regime in Syria -- efforts which American circles say have lately decreased. Clearly, the Palestinian issue has been excluded from the Iranian-Syrian formula at this juncture and the card of "resistance" waved by each of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah has therefore been weakened. Here too, Russia's stances fall under obstinacy, outbidding and upping the ante, not just the stances of Europe and the United States. The U.S. Administration opposes heading to the United Nations to request the admission of Palestine to the organization, but Europe too is divided in this respect and Russia is observing from afar. The issue is not necessarily one of "admission" to the UN as a full member state but will most likely be one of "recognition" of the State of Palestine along 1967 borders. While the real battle is over Europe, Russia seems also reluctant, even on this issue.

The time has come for Russia to show its true colors regarding the awakening of Arab people and regarding Russia's claims of firm positions such as those it upheld towards the Palestinian Cause.