The most vivid evidence of al-Assad’s independence was his statement on his readiness to resume contacts, almost immediately, with “two-faced” US and European (apparently also Saudi and Qatar) politicians who are using double standards if “this is required by the interests of the Syrian people.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave a long interview to leading Russian television networks and print media. This is an important event. The Syrian President does not get enough media attention and this opportunity to present his viewpoint to the leading media of a friendly power predetermined the tone and manner in which he described the developments in and around Syria.
Was his vision convincing? It is also possible to ask a different question: should we think that a politician who is setting forth his viewpoint is trying to convince those listening to him (all the more so since his audience agrees with his view by default by virtue of their government mission)? A politician should be consistent, which does not prevent him from laying emphasis on the aspects that his listeners would like to hear without being inconsistent. This means, in part, that al-Assad was supposed to talk about the West’s “vices,” its duplicity and double standards, and lash out against Saudi Arabia and Qatar. There was a very convenient excuse for this: ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the failures of the existing anti-terrorist coalition and a massive flow of Syrian migrants to Europe. Under the same circumstances the Syrian President was supposed to reject Turkish initiatives and to extol Iran’s position. Uniting Syria, Iran and Russia in a group of sovereign states being attacked by the West for this reason is also linked with the expectations of al-Assad’s listeners. Finally, if he were to be consistent, he was supposed to distort reality and allege that the appearance of ISIS and the growth of its influence was not linked with his course during the start of the Arab Spring, when he denounced as terrorists the then secular and moderate opposition and dealt blows to it, thereby facilitating (to what extent inadvertently?) the emergence of the Islamist threat.
In other words, this was not the leitmotiv of the Syrian President’s interview. Referring to Iran and Russia’s support (and receiving it), al-Assad demonstrated independence, albeit restricted by this support in what was for him a complicated situation (otherwise what is the point of using tough rhetoric as regards the West and the Gulf states?) Needless to say, he emphasized this independence by constantly appealing to the “legitimate choice of the Syrian people” who have renewed his presidential mandate. It was no less obviously manifest in his statements about the “supremacy of the Constitution” (when Kurds demanded autonomy) and a clearly expressed striving to establish contacts with the US (and the anti-ISIS coalition in general) with a view of countering terrorism by concerted effort. All these statements are not at all a repetition of the Russian position. But, probably, the most vivid evidence of al-Assad’s independence was his statement on his readiness to resume contacts, almost immediately, with these “two-faced” US and European (apparently also Saudi and Qatar) politicians who are using double standards if “this is required by the interests of the Syrian people.”
The Syrian President (and this obviously follows from his words if they are listened to with attention) addressed those against whom his rhetoric was directed. He tried to persuade them of his importance as an obstacle to terrorism. He was out to prove his legitimacy and, finally, presented Syria as a modern state that is far from authoritarian rule and respects the norms of the Constitution above all else. No doubt, this suggested that he is not ready to part with power today. But this also prompted the conclusion that during his rule Syria created efficient state institutions that are able to operate when “the interests of the Syrian people” convince al-Assad that it is time for him to part with power.
And the last point about al-Assad’s interview is probably the most important. The latest statements by US Secretary of State John Kerry to the effect that Russia and Iran could facilitate al-Assad’s departure (that were accompanied by the words about Russia’s “acceptability” as a participant in the anti-ISIS coalition) are not accidental. Were they not a result of a realistic interpretation of the Syrian President’s interview? At any rate, this time, as distinct from the past, Kerry did not mean at all al-Assad’s immediate departure from the political scene. Incidentally, the United States, Europe and the Gulf countries have long accepted the idea about the need to preserve “the institutions of the Syrian state” in the event of al-Assad’s eventual resignation.