Analysis: Stopping Syria, via Russia
March 12th, 2012
03:00 AM ET

Analysis: Stopping Syria, via Russia

By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter

The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to explain why all options for stopping the violence in Syria are fraught with difficulty. But there is one route that the administration believes would go a long way to changing thinking in Damascus, and the path goes right through Moscow.

As administration officials - from the White House to the State Department, from the Pentagon to the intelligence community - explain, the opposition is comprised of many small groups, and the parts so far do not add up to a united whole. That opposition, which Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, numbered at around 100 different groups, has not united and has failed to rally the entire country against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Arming the opposition would be futile against Syria's strong defenses and could lead to a chaotic civil war that could turn Syria into a safe haven for al Qaeda, administration officials argue. Military intervention, well, is out of the question, at least for now.

Which is why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been focused like a laser on turning Moscow into a member of the "Friends of the Syrian people," rather than what the United States considers a friend of the al-Assad regime.

As one of Syria's remaining allies, Russia's two vetoes of U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the regime have paralyzed the council from acting. The U.S. argues this has emboldened al-Assad to continue a brutal crackdown against the Syrian people, and deflated the opposition, too.

The Russians have billions in military contracts with Syria, and Russia's only Mediterranean naval base is there as well.

This weekend the head of the opposition Syrian National Council told Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy for the crisis, that the opposition would not hold talks with the regime on a political transition.

On Monday, Clinton has a key meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Syria. The immediate goal is to get Moscow to use its influence on the regime to allow access for aid workers to deliver desperately needed supplies. The U.S. also wants to take another stab at a third Security Council resolution and needs Russia's support.

The United States had hoped that once Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won last week's elections, Moscow would soften its stance. President Barack Obama called Putin on Friday to congratulate him, and the two agreed to "continue discussions" on Syria, which the White House described as among the "areas the United States and Russia have differed."

But negotiations last week at the United Nations signaled Russia was as hardline as ever on the idea that the Syrian opposition was not taking up arms in self-defense, but rather is as much to blame for the violence as al-Assad. This idea of "moral equivalence" is what stymied the two previous Security Council draft resolutions and threatens to do the same to efforts to pass one now.

Russia maintains its policy is not to protect the regime or cover up human rights abuses, nor is it about its own strategic interests. Moscow says it is merely concerned about the prospects of civil war, which it has continued to argue, is inevitable if the world continues to push the Arab League's plan for a political transition in Syria. The plan includes al-Assad handing over power to his vice president and, fading from the scene.

This is a similar plan to the one that finally got former Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, where, with a new president just sworn in, it seems to be working so far. It is not inconsistent with Moscow's stated goals of holding Syria together.

There is some fresh reason to hope Moscow may finally be coming around to this realization. In meetings with Arab ministers in Cairo this weekend, diplomats said Foreign Minister Lavrov seemed to acknowledge that a political transition in Syria is inevitable.

After weeks of tongue-lashing from the international community over its latest veto, Moscow may be feeling the heat. Its reputation and relations with both the West and Arab countries have been tarnished by its stance on Syria, and Russia may want to contain further fallout.

But the Russian's are limited in the flexibility.

In Cairo, Lavrov reiterated calls for an end to violence from all sides and urged against foreign intervention in Syria — a departure from the position of Arab Gulf states that have publicly advocated arming Syria's rebels or sending Arab peacekeeping troops into the country. In addition, while the statement endorsed the Arab League plan, it did not call for Assad to hand power to his vice president.

While these concessions could be the basis for a new Security Council resolution, is this the one America wants? Until now, the argument was that the United States could get a resolution passed in New York but not if it couldn't get Russia to sign on to one that would stay true to the Obama administration goal of getting al-Assad out.

While it would be a strong show of symbolism if Russia signed on to a Security Council resolution, a resolution that does not advance the idea of a political transition in Syria would be just that, symbolism.

What's more, the latest draft text floating around the halls of the United Nations does not offer concrete measures that the international community is prepared to take to stop the bloodshed. While the Security Council used a resolution on Libya as a pre-text for the military intervention that helped get rid of Moammar Gadhafi, even privately diplomats say that isn't in the offing when it comes to Syria.

Even a piece of a paper with a Russian call for al-Assad to step down may be too late. Having dug his heels in over the past six months, it is unclear whether Assad would even listen to Moscow or whether he would just compensate for the loss of Moscow's support by bending more toward his other remaining ally, Iran. U.S. officials have said Iran is aiding al-Assad with lethal assistance to continue his crackdown.

But the United States is convinced that if it can remove the Russian roadblock and have Moscow severe ties to Damascus, a path to ending the bloodshed could be clearer.

soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. travel insurance

    wow, really nice.......

    July 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Reply
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    April 7, 2012 at 3:28 am | Reply
  3. Fla Pete

    I hope Mrs.Clinton can put some pressure on Russia.It'll be hard especially when they're the known supplier of military weapons and hardware for Syria.They blatantly said NO to UN sanctions ,siding up with China ,who needs Syrian crude...If Russias Putan wants friendly conversations with the US,it had better change course and work along with its UN neighbors to bring Assad to trial for human rights violations.He has its countries blood on his hands,time to pay the piper,or walk the plank,whichevers best....

    March 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Reply


    March 13, 2012 at 7:32 am | Reply
  5. ghazi

    "Clinton has a key meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Syria. The immediate goal is to get Moscow to use its influence on the regime to allow access for aid workers to deliver desperately needed supplies."
    I support this. God bless you Hillary.

    March 13, 2012 at 6:34 am | Reply
  6. ChrisRo

    My opinion about this is ( I also have some of the knowledge from my father )> please no rude replies:
    As we all know, a look in the history will bring some answers to the questions of today's world. Israel was founded in 1947, and a state founded so close to present is by no means powerful when compared to the traditional countries like USA, Russia, Germany, Egypt, China, Great Britain, and so on. You got the point. It is viewed as a strong opponent because of his ally, the USA, which provides him weapons and knowledge. Since it has been founded, Israel fought wars with arab countries, and still there is hatred between them. The Middle East, being an area so wealthy and at the same time so intensely disputed, has led the superpowers to try and have some control over this area, so that they will have an asset when time will come. Russia went to Syria, and the USA, in a joint effort with Great Britain, help the Jews to establish Israel close to that hot area. This provide a buffer between the Middle East(Islam) and the Christian countries. Now, with the oil resources becoming scarce ( as some are saying ), and with the growing demand ( especially from China, India, Brazil and Turkey ) + the growing ambitions of Iran to dominate the region, has led the USA to plan an conquest campaign over this area. And this started long ago, in 2000's. The first victims were Afghanistan and Iraq, shortly after came Egypt and Lybia. Syria is not a targed on its own, but, being the closest ally of Iran, a war fought with Iran will provide prompt reply from Syria also. Israel is at bay, that's why they want to cause unrest in Syria. Egypt is at the border with Israel also, but it is regarded more as a peaceful dog. But I am sure, and I can bet on it, that if Israel will attack any country in that region ( not only Iran, even the smallest country in there ), the pharaohs will invade Israel. The axe of war between them is only buried, not destroyed.

    March 13, 2012 at 5:22 am | Reply
    • Can't believe is not butter

      doubt it..i think israel would nuke dose countries if it was faced with extinction

      March 13, 2012 at 9:47 am | Reply
    • Asdad

      16a17035fdVery nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wteand to say that I've truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case Ie28099ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon! 187

      April 5, 2012 at 8:21 am | Reply
  7. ironmike

    russia and china should be thrown in a walmart bin and sold for a buck ninety-nine.

    March 13, 2012 at 5:19 am | Reply
    • Pudendal Cleft

      Why not? If it's cheap enough, we'll buy anything.

      March 13, 2012 at 11:53 am | Reply
    • Lexis

      16a13735e0I have been absent for some time, but now I bmreemer why I used to love this website. Thanks , I will try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your website? 187

      April 7, 2012 at 12:02 am | Reply
  8. chris

    From what I have read and seen, this is what I believe should happen.
    Stop Syrian violence with military aide, because obviously an economical approach doesnt work. regardless whether or not a vote is casted, someone needs to intervene.

    March 13, 2012 at 2:20 am | Reply
  9. Joe Fattal

    How about if we take care of Russia first then go after Syria.

    March 12, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Reply
    • Vladimir

      good luck loser

      March 12, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Reply
    • mznmdm007

      If u can't take care of Iran, North Korea or even Afghanistan. How do u dream about taking care of USSR? Stupid uneducated street thug?

      March 13, 2012 at 12:46 am | Reply
      • Aaronn yehh

        The only reason why America has troubles is because they've been held back the last 20 years from full on military intervention

        March 13, 2012 at 1:39 am |
      • alex

        GOOD point!

        March 13, 2012 at 3:42 am |
      • Fla Pete

        Should have marched in there with Pattons Army in WWII.Russia was realing from the war and had their pants down.Gen.Macarthur wanted old iron sides to march into Moscow and put an old fashion ass whoppin on them Rooskies.Wed be supporting Russia now, if that happened,not a good idea...

        March 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Pudendal Cleft

      How 'bout America taking care of itself, first?

      March 13, 2012 at 11:54 am | Reply
      • Fla Pete

        Yer right,too many international moochers,never paying back anything.Like some of my relatives ,worthless....

        March 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  10. aj

    Why do we care about syria so much and totally ignore the violence in southern africa? The syrians had holidays commemorating black friday and the yomm kippur war

    March 12, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  11. Timmy

    Belhadj from Libya commanding groups of Libyans that have been deployed in this fight. And Paul Conroy is MI6 operative (a propaganda mouthpiece) Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE want to buy more weapons and deploy more mercs to do their work for them as usual (very priveledged, rich and always wanting America to do their own dirty work) Time for some "humanitarian" bombing like NATO did in Libya, but instead of 150,000 dead from death squads and NATO bombing as in Libya it will be in the hundreds of thousands. Buy the way why does CNN avoid any live un-censored coverage on Libya these days? Ask the Astor heir Anderson Cooper (CIA) A New World Order! World Government Dictatorship is what CNN promotes and does in fact represent. Where has the Owl worshiopper David Gergen been lately? I suggest for him 90 meetings in 90 days because he looks like he has been chewed up by a wolf and sh@# off a cliff.

    March 12, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Reply
  12. the wise

    You are all fools if you can't see Israel behind the scenes.

    They are making my people look like savage dogs, a shame to good Jews everywhere.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Reply
    • concerned citizen

      Very cool, I had been hearing that more and more good Jews have been lobbying against the aparteid nation.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
    • Can't believe is not butter

      Israel would have its way with the middle east if the u.s would let the beast unleash its furry

      March 12, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Reply
      • concerned citizen

        Doubtful, Israel is reliant on US support, and refueling.

        March 13, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Timmy

      You are in fact wise! Good comment and right on target.

      March 12, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Reply
      • mznmdm007

        But can this beast last in the fight without the master?

        March 13, 2012 at 12:50 am |
      • concerned citizen

        Timmy,.....your a little bitch

        March 13, 2012 at 1:23 am |
      • concerned citizen

        Nvr mind timmy, that comment was for butter balls.

        Timmy, ur the shit

        March 13, 2012 at 1:26 am |
  13. bob

    Go it alone.... to heck with russia.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  14. jpdo

    read year 325 after Christ who killed the true church. Papasy they dont have the power of the holy ghost for a reason. satan is behind them. the new world order will give power to them once they become i. control of the middle east. see isaias 17 & 47& 48 and joel 2

    March 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
    • Can't believe is not butter

      Dude!,im a god believer but the nonesence you speak of is totaly crazy.....god loves all..

      March 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
      • the wise

        You love a god, that asked Abraham to slay his son???

        Evil my friends.

        March 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Can't believe is not butter

      Eye for an eye,,,joel 323

      March 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
      • IJ

        That's old Test. Joel. Vengence is mine says the Lord. C'mon MAN!

        March 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
      • concerned citizen

        The Israelis believe they are a chosen people, tho their own god hates them so damn much...


        The Jewish god will aid their downfall.

        Israel translates into " struggles against god "


        March 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  15. jpdo

    USA is dragging us to HELL evil to the maximun exponent. using persuation to atract believers. dont believe their lies or we will be guilty of all those innocent people dying. al assad was or is one of Us And now he is useless in order to have total control of the new world order they must have damascus and iran is next. God and Jesus are coming fear the one thay has power to cast us into eternal death.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
    • Can't believe is not butter


      March 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
    • Audrey

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      April 4, 2012 at 6:30 am | Reply
  16. mipolitic

    like i have said so many times in the past putin built the fence and it will be up to him , as to when it comes down.

    obama is only concerned with re-election and after the past weeks in afghanistan with the koran , and this terrorist action against women and children obama will not risk anything in foreign policy that could go south which would derail his re-election.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Reply
    • Can't believe is not butter

      We need to get out of dose peoples buissnes and start taken care of our own.....dose people hate us and no matter what we do to help them,it wont change the way the feel about us...lets just leave them alone and if the ever attack us,than will have an excuse to blow them out of the map...just saying

      March 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
      • mipolitic

        well since you can't believe , than how in the world do you think we got into this mess , because some nit wit believed these afghan people were going to by into our way of life.

        the natives of north america have their own way and so do you and i also have my own way, so i totally agrre with you , we need to leave these guys to there own way and if they try any crap with us around the world we crush them with resolve from flash in the sky.
        but at this stage the russians will walk in behind us when leave and reep the rewards and this why we are still there.
        pull out now !

        March 12, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  17. tin.tun

    ...Lets Putin takes care Homs...

    March 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
    • Jazz

      I second that! 🙂

      March 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Reply
    • Can't believe is not butter

      Let obama and putin fight it out,and who ever wins ,gets to choos what the to see obama go black on putins

      March 12, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  18. Andrey

    Much ado about nothing.
    Still more concerned about putting the responsibility on somebody rather than resolving the situation itself!
    From my personal prospective heavy involvement from al Qaeda on the opposition side is a sufficient reason for just comming down and crushing it or at least supporting the government side. If opposition wants it any other way – let it clean its own house first!
    But the idea of making Russia a part of the "Friends of the Syrian People group" is just off this world! Even the name of this group is a joke! And it consists of the countries who are so heavy now into arming and training these "opposition" fighters! And in fact supporting and financing al Qaeda for years! So common, get real!

    March 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  19. Seth

    Interesting article.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  20. Name*okoye izuchukwu

    I really don't get it,this syrian conflict started the same time with libya but the obama administration did not pass through all these deplomacy τ̅☺ oust gaddafi,why Ȋ̝̊̅§ it taking russian and america so long τ̅☺ reach a compromise over syria...I understand that syria does not have oil like libya. ђã†̥ a sham...

    March 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  21. izay

    And my god man, russa??? They use spetnaz 4 a swat team! Thr use to death, thy jus dnt have compasion like we do 4 human life! Syrian people dnt deserve ths kind of treatment!

    March 12, 2012 at 10:16 am | Reply
    • Russky

      what do you know about Russian spetznaz????

      March 12, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Reply
      • Anita

        11:09, I have read that there are various facoitns fighting to wrest global power attempts from corrupt Illuminati/NWO. Apparently, there is BIG money behind these 'good' facoitns. Heretofore, I knew of no direct named groups so White Dragon means the fight is open and so this is great news! Thanks so much for sharing as a quick glance showed White Dragon overtly engaged in global political negotiations. We may just win this fight. Best news and cheers to you!

        June 28, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  22. izay

    I aggree take out iran first! Thn syria wont have an ally and thn it wouldnt get any support frm iran! And thr u go,al.assad regime will fall! Or better yet have the arab league send in peace keepers like thy afford!

    March 12, 2012 at 9:56 am | Reply
  23. R. terrill

    Really liked Labott's insitefull analysis of Syrian situation. I cannot imagine Assad's father ever getting himself in this
    mess. Maybe we should cultivate Putin's apparent insecurity as a major player and throw in some distraction for
    Iran. This is such a terrible tragedy for the Syrian people.

    March 12, 2012 at 9:49 am | Reply
    • concerned citizen

      Israel is the tragedy. They would see the world aflame....

      March 12, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • peter chrzanowski

      What kind of a bogus superpower are you Us of A . I am not one for violence but it seems there is no alternative now. Annan is wasting his time as well as everyone else . This guy Assad is worse than Gaddafi for heavens sake. Atleast he had an entertaining wardrobe, while this guy even looks like Hitler with his little moustache.. Like McAin says, what kind of a superpower are we if we cant take on airdefences in a 3rd world country. I bet if you just took out a dozen tanks with some drones or cruise missiles that would make Assad come to the diplomatic table. The guy knows only terror and violence, give him a bit of his medicine, a taste, then go back to the negotiating table.

      March 13, 2012 at 5:55 am | Reply
      • R. terrill

        Understand your total frustration, but more often than not, what appears to be a simple solution ends up akin to
        carrying a ball of fish hooks into a small room draped in gause.

        March 13, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  24. Georg

    Don't let destroy another country for oil!
    What you can do? Stop war in Iran!
    Make personal protest, if you don't want to pay more!

    March 12, 2012 at 4:18 am | Reply

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