The current developments in Syria are directly related to the broader processes at work in the Arab Spring, which largely explains the alignment of forces on the eve of Geneva 2. Islamists have stepped up their extremist activities. The alignment of forces between pro-government areas and cities and nascent administrative centers held by the opposition remains almost unchanged.
Advisor to the Deputy Chair of the Federation Council, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Andrei BAKLANOV :
The most general feature of what is now taking place in Syria is the start of a civil war. People are beginning to adapt to wartime conditions; the alignment of forces between pro-government areas and cities and nascent administrative centers held by the opposition remains almost unchanged. One gets the impression that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has proved to be a better manager in these difficult conditions than many expected him to be. Given the push for a political settlement in Syria, he and his entourage are more and more likely to stay in power. The government is coping with the wartime conditions, and the importance of this cannot be overstated.
I think there are two ways to handle the preparations for Geneva 2. The mediators should either do everything to bring opposition members, who are not ready to seek consensus, to the table, or Geneva 2 should become a conference of all those who are striving for peace talks and the rapid settlement of the crisis. For the time being, the international community is taking the first path, but the preparations for the conference have not been successful. I think the statements made by UN envoy on Syria Lahdar Brahimi have been dubious, and the UN should assign this mission to another diplomat who would be more energetic and free from any stereotypes.
I think it is necessary to take the second path and hold Geneva-2 even if not all the opposition forces are represented there. All sides should be conscious their responsibility to their country. They should cease hostilities and try to overcome this social, political and economic crisis. Since the opposition has taken a hard line, the government should become more flexible and enlist fresh, young forces to achieve a political and diplomatic settlement of the crisis. The conference should focus not on forming a government but on resolving humanitarian, public health and educational problems.
The position of Russian diplomats on Syria is justified and balanced. The crisis in the country will be overcome if support for this course is expanded.
Deputy Chairman of the Association of Russian Diplomats, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Alexander AKSENYONOK :
I believe it’s necessary to pay special attention to the regional and global aspects of the Syrian crisis in order to understand how the preparations for the Geneva conference are being made and whether it is possible to hold it at all. The Arab Spring is over but Arab countries have not established democracy as the West hoped.
As everyone knows, Syria is the stage for a proxy way. Such wars took place in the past but they were different. In Soviet times, patrons had influence on their clients but now their relationship has changed. The United States and the USSR managed to end civil wars in Angola and Mozambique by joint efforts because they had considerable influence on the sides. The cooperation between Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry has not been effective enough. The role of regional players is growing as new global conditions emerge. I’m referring to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf states, which are using financial muscle to pursue their own geopolitical ambitions during a period of tectonic changes in the Middle East.
Naturally, regional players are pursuing their own interests in this war. The Saudis are playing a special role, primarily in an effort to counter a perceived Iranian threat. It is no secret that the Gulf countries are sponsoring the Syrian opposition and hoping for foreign intervention. Their hopes have not materialized yet, as military intervention has been tabled for the near future and the prospects of a political settlement still don’t look promising.
The tragedy in Syria cannot be compared to what happened in Kosovo or Algeria. The ten year civil war in Algeria took 100,000 lives, whereas 120,000 people have been killed in Syria in just two years and a half, not to mention refugees and other people that require humanitarian aid. The UN Security Council bears special responsibility for settling this conflict.
I think the conditions for a successful conference in Geneva aren’t there. Neither side is willing to sit down at the negotiating table. The opposition is reluctant to talk because of internal divisions, its uncertain role in post-Assad Syria and insufficient funding from Saudi Arabia. The government has not confirmed officially that it will abide by the Geneva 1 communique, which calls for the formation of an executive body with broad powers. A political analyst from a think tank in one of the Gulf countries referred to the Geneva conference on Syria as a “flickering phantom.”
The Syrian opposition is expected to give its final answer on November 22-23. Russia, the United States and the UN will conduct the next round of talks on November 25. They will either set the date for the conference in December or continue working in this direction. In any case, what happens in Syria will shape subsequent events in the Middle East.
Member of the Russian Council on International Affairs, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Pyotr STEGNYI :
The current developments in Syria are directly related to the broader processes at work in the Arab Spring, which largely explains the alignment of forces on the eve of Geneva 2. Islamists have stepped up their extremist activities. This is a major element of the Syrian crisis. The second stage of the Arab Spring began with the military coup in Egypt on July 3 that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood. The easier challenges, like overthrowing presidents for life, were resolved during the first stage, but not a single country in the region has reached national consensus on the post-authoritarian agenda. Practically all countries of the region – from Yemen to Tunisia – have proved unable to assume full responsibility for implementing reforms in the context of an inclusive domestic dialogue. The second stage of the Arab Spring, the search for a new leader, a new Gamal Abdel Nasser, is beginning now.
Since early 2011, Arab leaders have been trying to consolidate their societies, keep their countries from falling apart after the democratic reset, resolve socioeconomic problems and find outside sources of funding for reforms. They have received funds from the oil-producing Gulf countries that have themselves faced social problems during the global financial crisis.
These developments are directly affecting Syria, where the first stage of the Arab Spring is not yet over. The country is riven by sharp divisions. People in Syria have proved resistant to Islamists taking power and attempting to establish sharia-based Emirates in their country. In contrast to government forces, Syria’s opposition consists of isolated extremist groups with mercenaries from 28 countries. The latter are not interested in accelerating preparations for Geneva 2, and influential regional players, primarily the Saudis, are exploiting this fact to aggravate the situation in Syria.
It is pointless to try and assess the Geneva process now. Russia has lived up to its commitments regarding Geneva 1 and 2, since both the government and opposition forces have formally agreed to participate in negotiations. Although the meeting of US, Russian, and UN representatives ended in failure, the sides set a date for the next round. This is the natural next step in the effort to end the war in Syria, it is part of the peace process, and, importantly, it represents an alternative to a civil war fought on a mine field.