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October 23, 2021

Last act in Syria?

After the historic dinner in St Petersburg of G-20, on September 5, which we referred to in the latest column as reminding of the “concert of power” reunions of the 19th Century, and probably interpreted as the first action of a new global “concert of power”, things evolved at dazzling speed in relation to the Syrian dossier. Last Monday, on September 9, the US Secretary of State John Kerry answered a journalist’s question during a press conference held in London, mentioning that Syrian President Assad might avoid a military strike by the ‘coalition of the willing’ organised by the USA if he accepted the international control upon such weapons, which includes signing the treaty that bans this kind of armament. Immediately, at unexpected speed, Kerry’s opinion was endorsed by the Russian diplomacy, which in 24 hours announced that such a plan is feasible, because Damascus has formally agreed to it.

Then, with an equally incredible speed reaction, in line with the present revolution in the communication technology, followed the reactions of other big powers, a draft resolution of the UN Security Council (initiated by France) on solving the Syrian crisis, succeeded by a meeting of the chiefs of American and Russian diplomacies in Geneva. Friday (September 13) was the day of a marathon of meetings between the two chief diplomats and the next day (September 14) the NYT newspaper was in measure of announcing a historic agreement. According to the newspaper, “the United States and Russia reached a sweeping agreement on Saturday that called for Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons to be removed or destroyed by the middle of 2014 and indefinitely stalled the prospect of American airstrikes.” The article also mentions that the agreement was reached after three days of “intense negotiations” – which started Wednesday – and that it represents an unprecedented enterprise that “set the stage for one of the most challenging undertakings in the history of arms control.”
We should also mention that, in the interval between Kerry’s public remark (Monday) and the start of the negotiations between the two heads of diplomatic chancelleries and their experts in Geneva, significant opinions were expressed by the president of the two big powers, USA and Russia. First, Vladimir Putin published on September 11 a column in the NYT in which he explained that the diplomatic solution to the crisis is a must, criticised the American “exceptionalism” recently invoked by his counterpart at the White House and concluded by saying that God made all humans equal – a religious reference noticed by political observers. Second, American officials firmly affirmed the position of the USA in the Syrian crisis, in essence signalling that it can be solved peacefully only if the Syrian regime makes proof of honesty, otherwise the military option remaining open.
The column signed by the Russian president was followed by a huge number of comments by the American and international public. Of course, the scale of evaluating the words of Vladimir  Putin in these comments is very large, from seeing it as a proposal for an alliance between the two states that would consolidate international legality – hence a message to the USA, encountered in a NYT column: “take advantage of this accident of history and trust your friend, Uncle Vlad.”- from incriminating the hypocrisy of the Kremlin leader who ‘plays’ a geopolitical chess and tries to defend Assad from the responsibility of the serious crimes committed, his column being a real “masterpiece of comic bravado”.
What is however obvious is the fact that the Russian president acquired, during the last week, an imposing (and positive) image in the American and international public opinion, the number of comments that appreciate his statesman’s qualities, as well as the remarkable way in which he administered the Syrian dossier these weeks being clearly superior to those who identify hidden and perfidious reasons in the last international actions. Two examples of both trends are necessary in order to have the image of this clash of opinions at international scale, in itself favourable to the Russian president: positive: “Putin has proved he is someone to contend and reckon with – like him or hate him. There is no way around that – at least in the eyes of any realistic person beyond the usual ‘suspects’ who will deny any and everything and convince themselves of a parallel but imaginary reality. He is always calm, collected and businesslike. He is unpredictable but at the same time a leader you expect not to be rushed into a mad decision.” (Financial Times – forum comment); negative: “What a crazy world we are living in when Russia sounds more sane and responsible than our own government on a serious international crisis. It’s as if I have blundered into some bizarre parallel universe.” (NYT – idem).
Two remarks must be made regarding the amazing speed at which the truly historic Russo-American agreement of last week was signed. The first mention refers to the fact that the preliminaries of this accord, held – as aforementioned – at an incredible speed – especially against the background of recent tensions between Washington and Moscow over the ‘Snowden case’, reveal the likely existence of a preset scenario between the two major actors. The international press already voices doubts, from direct interrogations on forums – such as the question “naively” asked by a reader Saturday in a comment on NYT, but shared by a considerable number of other readers: ‘What I want to know is who was the journalist who asked Kerry the question “Is  there anything Assad can do to prevent a strike?”’- up to sophisticate ‘chess games’ imagined in columns run by prestigious international newspapers. Without going the road of conspiracy theory, a column published by the British newspaper “The Daily Telegraph” under the name ‘Poker-face Putin holds all the cards’, wrote last Sunday that it all was a plan. Threatening with a military intervention and then avoiding it, President Obama allegedly created the necessary conditions for Assad and Russia to sit at the negotiation table and speed up a solution to the crisis by subjecting the Damascus regime to the exigencies of international law with regard to chemical weapons. Or, ‘read otherwise,’ “if we pursue the chess analogy, then the first clever move was really Assad’s. By using chemical weapons, he created the necessary conditions by which the US would be forced to engage in these negotiations, which will almost certainly protect his regime from removal by the West, and will guarantee his Russian friends a place on the highest global platform.“ We are thus witnessing a scenario written previously and enacted through a high-level diplomatic choreography of a sophisticated subtlety. Is this so, or not? We do not know.
The second mention is deserved by the causes that determined the exponential haste in closing this agreement or, in a different interpretation, the preset plan for signing it or its very recent conception. Some tend to believe that the entire Syrian dossier is related to Iran and the efforts of the USA to prevent its access to nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, others bring to the equation the exigencies of the ‘Asian pivot’ pronounced by the USA and the definition of a new architecture of power in the Mideast. Not few believe the explanations referring to the competition for systemic global power and its reverberations in the volatile zone of the planet, a real barometer of planetary balance.
But some of those who posted comments on the forums of big international dailies do not hesitate to advance as a cause of this unprecedented and urgent intervention in the complicated Syrian situation the defence of Oriental Christianity, subject to increasing aggression throughout the region during these last years, especially since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. It is already known, for instance, that Moscow uses the support of the Russian Orthodox Church in order to promote its own geopolitical designs. More recently, the patriarch of this church paid a visit to Moldova in order to convince the leaders of this country to avoid signing the accord of association to the EU during the Vilnius Summit of the Eastern Partnership. But the same patriarch Kirill paid, at the end of 2012, a visit to Damascus, formally described as a gesture4 of solidarity with the Christian minority of this country, caught in the turmoil of a savage civil war. It is also known that the Christian minority of Syria supports the Assad regime, fearing the religious fanaticism of rebel jihadists. Some comments posted on forums these days signal Russia’s return to a historic role it played ever since the 19th Century, which it abandoned during the atheistic communist regime: protector of Christianity in the Mideast. Here is such a comment in the British press: “Aside from the Cold War, Russians and Britain have been on the opposite side in only 3 conflicts (or near conflicts) since Napoleon: Crimea, Kosovo, and (now) Syria. What’s the common link? In each case, Russians stood on the same side as the Christians in a conflict with Sunni Moslem adversaries (while Britain plumped for the Islamic side). Russia was given a 19th century role of protecting Christian minorities in its former neighbour the Ottoman Empire. Turkey is Russia’s oldest foe. Russia still takes this role very seriously.” In a region where theocracies lead states (Iran) and religious fanaticism has as target of predilection other Abrahamic religions than Islam, such a motivation should not be ruled out, although, as proven by history, it was only a geopolitical pretext. But today it undoubtedly reflects a reality.


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