Silver Lining

Food for thought

‘Russian arms defend Syria’

(Terrorism in Syria-File photo)

by Yusuf Fernandez, source

On 11 May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that his country was completing its delivery of surface-to-air missiles to Syria. “Russia is not planning to sell – Russia has sold and signed contracts a long time ago, and is completing supplies of the equipment – which is anti-aircraft systems, according to the already signed contracts,” Lavrov told reporters in Warsaw.

He added that “this is not forbidden by any international laws, this is defensive weaponry. It is designed for Syria as an importer to have in this situation an opportunity to defend itself from air strikes which, as we know, is not a completely fantastical scenario.” Russia also condemned the Israeli air strikes in Damascus “as a threat to regional stability”.

In an interview with the Iranian Arabic-speaking television channel Al-Alam, Russian expert Viacheslav Matozov said that Moscow is supporting the international laws that guarantee the right of the states to defend its sovereignty. Russia understands that the Syrian conflict has just to do with sovereignty. If the West can overthrow those governments that it does not like through using terrorism and sanctions, then the international system would become a Western-dominated dictatorship without international laws or legal principles, not to mention that China and Russia would be the ultimate victims of this strategy.

For its part, Israel, the aggressor that attacked Syria few days ago, asked Moscow to cancel what it said was the imminent sale of the S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Syria. The S-300 is designed to shoot down planes and missiles at 200-km ranges.

A response to US threats

It was not only Israel who tried to stop the shipments of Russian anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. In May, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, whose country supported Israeli air strikes – which meant a blatant aggression and violation of the UN Charter and the international law – called these defensive weapons as “destabilizing” to Israel’s security. In other words, Washington rejects that any Arab or Muslim country can have the means to protect itself from Israeli attacks. British Premier David Cameron, who recently met Putin in Sochi, also warned Moscow against the delivery of the S-300 systems to Syria.

Nevertheless, Russia has rejected such interference in its internal affairs. According to the daily Al Quds al Arabi, published in London, the S-300 missiles would have already come to Syria. The Arab daily said that Russia has sent 200 missiles of this system to the Arab country and the Syrian crews have been already trained about how to use these arms.

These anticraft missiles will certainly make it more difficult for the US and Israel to even consider intervening militarily or enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria. The recent introduction by Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of legislation that allows the US government to provide arms and military training to the Syrian rebels, showed that this measure is already being discussed in the US top echelons. American military instructors have also been working with Syrian militants at training camps in Jordan and Turkey for some months.

Russia´s credibility

Moscow thinks that US threats to send arms to Syrian rebels, along with US unfounded accusations about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian military forces, seek to “push Russia on Syria” and give the US leverage in the negotiations to reach a political deal that puts an end to the Syria war. However, this is a lousy diplomatic tactic and probably boomeranged, given that Russia hates to be seen bowing to US pressure. Therefore, Moscow has taken measures in order to let Washington know that this maneuver will not work.

Actually, it is Russia´s credibility and its international role what it is in question here. US moves and threats should force Moscow to come to Syria´s real defense; otherwise, the Russia-led military alliance CSTO would collapse. Even though Syria is not a member of the CSTO, the members of this organization are looking at Moscow and how it decides to handle the situation in Syria.

If Russia fails to help Syria defend its sovereignty or bows to Western pressure, then Russian allies, such as Armenia and Tajikistan, would likely decide to abandon the CSTO and Kazakhstan would change from being a neutral nation to a country that is aligned to the NATO, just as Uzbekistan did.

This would mean the end of the Russian power in the former Soviet space and the world on the whole in the following years. It would also invite the NATO to start to act on the borders or even within the Russian Federation. This is the most powerful reason why Russia has decided to support Syria and maintain an important naval presence in the Mediterranean sea in order to prevent any Western attack on Syria.

As the result of Russian firmness on the Syria issue, the US has been forced to change its own position on the core issue; namely, its demand that Assad and his government should go as a prelude to any dialogue. Russia and the US decided during Kerry´s recent visit to Moscow to convene an international conference to bring representatives of the Assad government and the opposition to the negotiating table. Such talks would aim at finding a political solution to the conflict.

There are also doubts about what is the real US and Western approach on these negotiations, which have also been rejected by the Western-supported Syrian opposition. Some analysts fear that the US will try to use the conference to achieve the same goals that the militants have failed to obtain in the battlefield. On May 16, Lavrov said that certain Western states were making efforts to limit the participants in an international peace conference on Syria and to possibly predetermine the outcome of the talks.

“Among some of our Western colleagues, there is a desire to narrow the circle of external participants and begin the process from a very small group of countries in a framework which, in essence, would predetermine the negotiating teams, agenda, and maybe even the outcome of talks,” Lavrov said in an interview posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

For his part, Matozov also thinks that the US claims in favor of a political solution are just “lies.” He recalled that “the proposal to arm Syrian rebels is being debated in the US Senate, where the hawks, neocons, and the Zionist lobby are putting pressure on the president to accept their extremist positions,” he said.

Matozov considers that the US seriousness on this issue will ultimately depend on the own Russian firmness. “The US is moving forward. If they see signs of weakness in the opposite side, they will increase their pressure. But when they see that the Russian position is firm, does not change and does not back down, then they will be forced to change their current position.”

In any case, the time will say if the US government is willing to change its stance, or if it insists on pursuing a military solution to resolve the Syrian crisis, even though the Syrian army is obtaining important victories on the ground. “Russia is ready to adjust its relations with Syria and to provide it all the necessary means to defend itself, if it perceives that Washington wants to continue with its military approach on the Syrian issue,” he concluded.

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