Entries in Russia (85)
On Monocle 24's The Daily on Thursday night, I discussed the latest rumours and claims over the Russian shipment of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria to get to the real significance of the story.
The take-away line? "The S-300 story is more important as a political game --- with the "West" trying to put Russia in a corner and Moscow standing firm --- than as a military development."
Al-Manar: Mr. President, we are in the heart of the People’s Palace, two and a half years into the Syrian crisis. At the time, the bet was that the president and his regime would be overthrown within weeks. How have you managed to foil the plots of your opponents and enemies? What is the secret behind this steadfastness?
President Assad: There are a number of factors are involved. One is the Syrian factor, which thwarted their intentions; the other factor is related to those who masterminded these scenarios and ended up defeating themselves because they do not know Syria or understand in detail the situation. They started with the calls of revolution, but a real revolution requires tangible elements; you cannot create a revolution simply by paying money.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition has officially confirmed that it will not participate in a proposed international "peace" conference in Geneva next month without a guarantee that President Assad will leave power.
The committee adopted a declaration amid a week-long meeting in Turkey, "The participation of the Syrians in any conference is tied to the presentation of a deadline for a solution and giving the necessary binding international guarantees."
Russia answered the Western pressure with the clear signal that it will continue to provide weapons to the "legitimate" authority in Syria. In so doing, it was sending another message: if you want to have an international "peace" conference, that "legitimate" regime will have to be allowed at the table with no pre-conditions on its participation.
Yet, at the same time, Moscow was not going to wear the villain's mantle designed for it by the "West", but was going to maintain plausible deniability. Th message:
Maybe we are supplying S-300s under an old contract, maybe we are not --- you keep trying to figure it out.
Meanwhile, your move, Washington. Your move, London. Are you really going to pour in more weapons to the insurgency, even as you criticise us for supplying our own to the "legitimate" leaders of Syria?
The Free Syrian Army's Chief of Staff, General Salim Idriss, has warned, "If the attacks of Hezbollah against Syrian territory do not stop within 24 hours, we will take all measures to hunt Hezbollah, even in hell."
Idriss continued with the threat to intervene in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based, "I will no longer be bound by any commitments I made, if a decision to stop the attacks...is not taken and implemented," said Idriss.
Idriss said, "We are being subjected to a genocide conducted by Hezbollah," and, without giving details of specific operations said he hoped "that everyone will excuse the Free [Syrian] Army" for retaliating.
The principle sticking point involves voting. Existing members of the coalition insist that the inclusion of new members must be based on balloting by existing members only. But this would change little in a monopoly that was made possible by interference from regional countries to begin with, rather than based on consensus among Syrian opposition. The existing members were not chosen by the people to decide whether certain opposition figures should be members or not.
The second issue is the "blocking third", or the veto power held by a third of the members. This idea was advanced by the coalition's secretary general, Mustafa Al Sabbagh, and was clearly meant to maintain the monopoly of the current core group within the coalition.
Hassan argues that this stalemate may cripple the group, and will only fuel the stalemate seen on Syria's battlefields.
On the other hand, The Atlantic's Shadi Hamid argues that the political stalemate can only be solved by progress on the battlefield, and that progress has not happened because the international community is waiting for a unified leadership that will likely never occur:
Insurgents fighting in Qusayr
has rejected Russian demands that, for an international conference, there should be no pre-condition of the departure of President Assad.
"We have been very clear that any transitional period must start with the departure of Assad and the heads of the security services," Khalid Saleh, the spokesman of the SNC, said Tuesday.
Saleh also said the Free Syrian Army must receive "major shipments of weapons" and "must be able to control more areas of Syria before we start thinking about the conference".
Insurgents have retaken the Damascus suburb of Otaiba, which was been a conduit for arms from Jordan to opposition forces near the capital before it was seized by regime forces last month.
Commanders said insurgent brigades, including the General Command and Islamist factions, had united to re-claim Otaiba, two miles northeast of Damascus International Airport.
The opposition forces adopted a white banner with the Muslim declaration of faith: "There is no god but God; Mohammad is God's prophet."
US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan have given a joint press conference in a rainy White House Rose Garden. One would think with both world leaders on the same stage that topics like terrorism on the Turkish/Syria border, the ongoing Syrian crisis, and the sectarian strife in Iraq would be major priorities. They were not. These topics were not raised until more than halfway through Obama's opening comments, and there was no news beyond echoing very general statements that mirror the policies that have been more-fully expressed at other times.
Syria was clearly not on the agenda, though another journalist makes an important note that this may soon change:
Note that PM Erdogan will have 2 hour private dinner w/pres Obama tonight, it's when, Erdogan says, will talk Syria in depth #rosegarden— ilhan tanir (@WashingtonPoint) May 16, 2013
More notable might be the questions from the press. Due to rain, the press conference may have been shortened, but the 1st question asked to Obama was about a domestic scandal (the IRS) and the 1st question to Erdogan was about Turkey's policies towards Israel. In other words, while having both leaders on record at the same time, some really interesting questions could have been asked about how these two leaders will pursue their most pressing common problem. Instead, they were squandered on offering the leaders an opportunity to echo talking points that they're already given.