Syria: Challenging factors for Kofi Annan's peace mission
In late February an important figure entered the conflict in Syria – the UN and the League of Arab States appointed former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan their joint special envoy to help deal with the crisis in Syria. His efforts have already produced results – the Syrian government has agreed to comply with the terms of his peace plan and pull out its troops from cities by April 10. However, considering the state of affairs in Syria, it would be premature to speak about any long-term results of his mission.
Formally, Kofi Annan’s mission enjoys the unanimous support of the world community, including Russia. Annan’s role is based on his personal authority. A former UN head, he has done much to create a safer world. On December 10, 2001 the United Nations and its secretary-general were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Annan’s plan provides for steps towards political settlement and creates the hope that Syria will stop short of full-scale civil war. However, the devil is in the details. There is little hope for a political solution in Syria, where the confrontation between government troops and the opposition continues and the main factor uniting different opposition groups is the demand for Bashar al-Assad’s resignation.
Tensions are mounting because the opposition continues to receive signals of support from many foreign players. Thus, while the Friends of Syria Group publically backs Annan’s plan and his mission, it continues to openly strengthen the opposition. The United States has decided to grant it $12 million; a number of Arab states are emphasizing the need to supply the opposition with arms. Hence, the opposition forces are digging in and are striving for victory rather than compromise. Their demands on the regime are becoming stronger as expectations grow.
In principle, the regime always bears greater responsibility for events in the country than the opposition. However, in current conditions the political balance and degree of responsibility are more or less even because of foreign support that allows the opposition to engage in hostilities and exert pressure on the regime. Al-Assad has agreed to the Annan-proposed measures, that is, withdrawal of government troops from cities by April 10 and ceasefire by April 12. It is impossible to predict what the opposition will do. Defusing tensions may not be in its interests. It may wish to force al-Assad to break his promises.
The events in Syria have long become unpredictable, and there are serious apprehensions about the outbreak of civil war. It is probably too late to speak about prospects – the human losses and the scale of bloodshed have already been enormous. Brutal suppression of the uprising, actions of militants and the potential victory of the opposition are causing concern. The opposition may not be able to achieve national reconciliation and to run a country weakened by fighting.
Russia considers foreign armed interference in Syria unacceptable and insists on the need to promote political dialogue in every possible way. The main provisions of Annan’s plan meet these requirements. However, Russian policy is not shared by Arab and some Western countries that insist on regime change and believe that Russia has a stake in preventing this. Their negative attitude to the Syrian regime is prompted by its policy in the region and its ties to Iran. They prefer the opposition. Under the circumstances, Russia’s policy of preserving the general philosophy of international relations is detrimental to its image to a certain extent and is prompting criticism in some Arab countries.
Annan’s mission can ease such mistrust. Its success largely depends on the international community, which should not simply support it but also influence both sides of the conflict by encouraging them to search for compromise rather than dig their heels in.
Irina Zvyagelskaya is senior fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.