This is the fifth time a Russian veto drops a UN resolution, and this time it is against the French draft resolution to stop the violence in Aleppo in the latest UN Security Council session, which was held on the eighth of this month, dropping with it the Security Council’s prestige and its role in this disastrous and clear failure. The positions of the two major powers, the Russian Federation and the United States, towards the Syrian issue over the past six years, have brought the international community to a state of complete impotence in a dangerous precedent that has never been experienced by such high regarded international organization since its inception, sending a dangerous message to the world, and threatening global chaos and disregard for international law and world public opinion, ridiculing legal and moral deterrents, leaving weak nations to their destiny, and opening the door to wars for influence which are too costly for mankind. How things have come to this? Is there an exit for the international community to overcome this disability?
Russia’s military intervention in Syria a year ago, in response to an Iranian-Syrian request, marked a dangerous turning point in the course of the Syrian revolution, significantly altering the power balance on the ground in favour of the regime and its allies, who were on the verge of inevitable decline and collapse. The Russians had adopted, and still adopt in their barbarian war on the Syrian people, a scorched land policy in accordance with their military creed, as this intervention was already preceded and paralleled with a political debauchery in the UN Security Council through the repeated use of the right of veto, securing political protection for the regime, disrupting international prosecution against it, bestowing upon it a protection that has never been presented to any other regime in the history of the United Nations except “Israel.”
On the other hand, the United States did not object to the Russian intervention, and in spite of its persistent position on a non-military solution in Syria, it did not exhibit until this moment one serious position for which one can read into the reactions of the Russians and their allies, to understand the reality of the US policy toward the Syrian issue; on the contrary, the US administration was showing unusual decline, ambiguity and lousiness, dazzling observers, states and individuals, in a maze of speculation without certainty.
Many questions impose themselves within this context on what the US and Russian positions are, and answers may not be attainable in the moment; questions such as: Does the United States see the Russian presence in Syria and its outcomes of killing and destruction as something that serves the US strategy in the area, as long as it does not cost them strategically? Or are the Americans luring the Russians into an exhausting quagmire, undaunted by the human, political and moral cost of their attitude? It is true that the most important motives that prompted Russia into a military intervention is the search for a pawn in return for the many troubling Russian files pending with the West, and still they did not get any yet, but Russia is still not aware of the seriousness of what it did? Or is it blinded by interests? Did Russia choose to fight a fierce influence war with the West in the vital Middle East war? If that flirts with the imagination of the Russian leaders, will Russia be able to withstand the consequences and implications of this war? There are many doubts about that, regardless of the media hype and the arrogance shown by its officials.
On the ninth of last September in Geneva, the Kerry-Lavrov agreement was signed, including an article about the cessation of hostilities in Aleppo, and the delivery of international relief aid to civilians trapped there, amounting to more than a quarter of million people. That deal has failed, and another truce has failed long before that which was the truce agreed between the two ministers on 22 of last February, and it was doomed because the Pentagon and the US intelligence refused to cooperate with the Russians in terms of one item which provided the formation of a joint executive cell, through which intelligence information between the parties would be exchanged. The Russians considered this item as a basic instigator for them in that agreement, lashing out on the eastern Aleppo, destroying entire neighbourhoods and killing hundreds of civilians in crazy raids, using internationally banned and sophisticated weapons exceeding the capabilities of their rivals and the level of conflict, as if they made a decision to occupy Aleppo under the pretext of defeating Al-Nusrah’s Front. If Russia and its allies have been able to achieve this goal, it would give it a strategic achievement, turning balances in the field upside down, allowing Russia to pass its vision of a political solution, which essentially maintaining the Assad regime, and even Kerry’s warning to them that “the occupation of Aleppo would not end the war”, will not deter them from their indulgence in violence.
It seems that the size and quality of violence Russia was practicing in Aleppo, and the prospect of taking over it, has frightened Western Europe, especially in light of the deliberate US inaction, who merely on 13 of last September announced the cessation of talks with Russia on Syria, also announcing Obama’s request to his national security team to provide options to act upon; and it turned out it was just a waste of time, when he ruled out all military options and insisted on diplomatic options which were previously announced as discontinued.
The Europeans fear Russia’s victory in Aleppo, and later in Syria, under the American ambiguity, which could encourage it to move the confrontation into their field, so they mobilised their diplomatic and media forces to rein the Russian rage, starting with France submitting a draft resolution to the international security Council on 8 of this October, calling for a cessation of hostilities in Aleppo, and a no fly zone, and the delivery of relief supplies; as usual the resolution was dropped by Moscow’s veto, the fifth time they used the veto to disable the UN’s work towards the Syrian tragedy, and in the same meeting, they hastily submitted a counter resolution, which in turn was dropped too, after receiving only 4 votes, one of which was Russia’s.
The Russian veto shock received by the Security Council, prompted the Europeans to intensify diplomatic and political pressure on Russia by accusing it of violating international law and committing crimes amounting to war crimes. The British House of Commons held a meeting where they condemned Russia’s aggression, and the British Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, announced in this session that “it is time to look at other options in Syria, including military options,” but he stressed “that any move must be within the alliance with the United States,” saying: “we still have a lot until we get to it.” .
For its part, France disrupted the Russian president’s visit to Paris, which was scheduled on the nineteenth of this month, when the French president insisting that the meeting should be limited to discuss the situation in Syria, prompting Putin to cancel, and the French foreign minister also announced that France would continue to put pressure on Russia.
Major European newspapers and many media outlets engaged in a mass media campaign too, exposing Russia’s practices in Syria, and putting the pictures of the Syrian children who were removed from under the rubble in the front-pages.
This political and media pressure that the European have resorted to, pushing Russia into a state of diplomatic isolation, is not enough to deter Russia and push it to retreat, so what is the point? Did the Europeans only want to inject the European public opinion with hostility towards the Russian danger? Or is it an attempt to fill the vacuum created by the US administration’s policy, and the state of inertia that it is going through because of the elections?
Following up the Russian reaction and its counter mobilisation, suggests that the West aims both; to curb the Russian rush or mitigate it, and prepare the Western public opinion to an inevitable confrontation with Russia, which undoubtedly would preferably happen in our region if necessary.
In an interview with the Russian agency “RIA Novosti”, former Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, warned that the world is “dangerously nearing the danger zone.”
In the face of the European move, the Russian media, too, is loudly mobilizing the Russian public opinion, and Russian military officials and politicians are frequently directing implicit threats to the West, talking about the Russian readiness for confrontation. Russian military spokesman, Gen. Igor Concnikov, warned the White House, the Pentagon and the US Foreign Affairs “of the consequences of a military act in Syria”. On the official Russian Net 1, Lt. Col. Dmitry Kiselev, who is also the director of RIA Novosti news agency, said: “we will drop the US airforces”, continuing that the Americans “want to use force against the Assad forces and against Russian jetfighter, and we must not be afraid of the American provocations,” warning that the missiles installed in Kaliningrad near Poland “could be equipped with nuclear warheads,”. The Russian Defence Ministry announced the enhancement of its naval presence in the East of the Mediterranean by sending its aircraft carrier the “Kuznetov”, accompanied by the finest military ships and cruisers in the Russian Navy, and the Russian Duma indorsing the permanent presence of Russian troops in Humaimam air force base.
On the other hand, the Russian regime is facing a state of internal restlessness, that could become more prevailing due to tension and economic hardship resulting from the brinkmanship practiced by the Russian president in his confrontation with the West, especially in Syria; and no doubt that Putin’s policy reflects the stress and worry about the strategic risk posed by the expansion of the Atlantic towards its geopolitical space, and penalties and other files, and they represent the imbalance of Russia’s relationship with the West, and the state of internal restlessness is also a reflection of the dilemma which Russia is mired in in Syria and Ukraine, but the manifestation of this state is still of elitist nature, taking the form of opinions, analyses and warning petitions, the most recent one was a petition adopted by hundreds of Russian intellectuals, calling for Putin to reconsider the position towards Syria and to withdraw.
The question that arises here is whether Russia is ready and willing for a confrontation? Or will it cautiously move towards calming and cooling? Does Russia fear that America may move toward military action?
When the Russian president declared on the eve of the Lausanne Conference that: “it is difficult to engage with the current US administration,” it meant that it was too late to make concessions for the current US administration which was setting sail and waiting for the next administration, whose positions were still unknown, but he wanted dialogue with them.
It is natural that Russia fears the United States taking military action in Syria, because it will embarrass it or push them to the sleigh of confrontation which both parties prefer to avoid; Russia is keen, although things on the ground are going to their advantage, to continue its relationship with America, because it derives legitimacy for its presence in Syriafrom its pretentious commitment to a political solution, rather than the request of the regime and Iran, and perhaps it is useful to recall the Russian position, when Obama threatened military action following the use of chemical weapons, Russia was quick to emphasize that they were not likely to engage in military confrontation, and it came up with the disarmament of the regime’s arsenal of chemical agreement.
At the height of the European campaign against Russia, it is impressive that Moscow called solely to hold a conference in Lausanne on the fifteenth of this month, one day before the London Conference of the solid nucleus of the Friends of the Syrian people, and it didn’t invite the European countries, so what did Moscow want in Lausanne? Is it a Russian bid to break the isolation that enveloped it? Or is a message to cool and reduce the state of tension?
The United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran were all invited to Lausanne, with Iran stalling its confirmation to attend until its condition to invite Iraq has been applied, then all of Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and the international envoy, Staffan de Mistura, were all invited to Syria.
Before the meeting, Lavrov announced that Russia would not raise new initiatives, and that the meeting aimed to “conduct work talks, not discussions, such as those that take place in a General Assembly”, hopping that this meeting would help “in the launch of a dialogue on the basis of the principles stipulated in the Russian-American agreement which was welcomed widely, but has not been implemented “. The White House spokesman statement was in tune with this confirming that: “Washington remained committed to deeply engage multi players to reduce the violence in Syria, which necessarily included Moscow, too.”
The Lausanne meeting took place, followed by the London meeting, and statements have not been issued by either! Even individual declarations gave away nothing, and what was not expressed by the Lausanne’s meeting of undeclared understandings, was revealed by subsequent developments, including the sudden Turkish position when its foreign minister firmly requested Fateh Alsham Front to get out of Aleppo, which repose the question about the size of the Turkish rotation and the resultant understandings, and how it would be reflected on the Syrian revolution in Aleppo in particular? Not to mention the Saudi silence.
Russia had announced a truce in Aleppo for eight hours, few hours later, the Russian Foreign Minister announced an open truce and stopping the shelling from 18 October, to allow the application of De Mistura’s plan, which proposed extracting “Al-Nusrah Front” from Aleppo as a prelude to separate between the “moderate” and “terrorist” groups in the Syrian armed opposition. Then comes a summit of German-Russian-French in Berlin, to discuss the situation in Syria mainly, as an additional effort in the same direction, as well as calling on military and security officials to hold a meeting in Geneva, from the regional countries that attended the Lausanne meeting as well as Russia, the US, France and Britain, to discuss the situation on the ground in Aleppo and prepare lists of moderate opposition to be distinguished from extremist ones, namely “Al-Nusrah Front” in the first place.
Frantic diplomatic mobility cannot reflect known arrangements yet, the Russians stopped their bombardment of Aleppo, and it is still too early to anticipate the results of this movement. It is clear that the regional countries involved in the conflict were called to integrate with the European effort in this regard, and it is acceptable to Russia, who intend to freeze the conflict or cool it down during the current phase of the US administration, especially if we take into account the start of the battle of Mosul, which will provoke the US administration to ignite other fronts to distract attention from it.
Whatever the international and regional consensus going by these days, it is sure and to a large extent that they come at the expense of the Syrian revolution, costing the Syrian opposition, political and military, unenviable repercussions.
Looking at options available to the international community, after the failure and deficit of the UN Security Council which is entrusted with international peace and security keeping, leads to recognize that the choices they have are governed by the will of the major powers who can exercise veto and who have the ability to act, namely the United States of America whose inaction has allowed Russia to continue to repeat the use of this right irresponsibly, damaging the prestige of the existing international system, which would have disastrous effects on the international community itself and the future of international relations.
When the wills of the international agents meet, the United States ahead of them, to activate the UN Security Council and its role, the Council will regain its ability to act and force offenders to respect its resolutions.
The nature of the international relations and their necessities, dictates the continuous diplomatic mobility along with the use of other means of pressure, even if they were not binding or quick in results; this kind of mobility depends on the accumulation, which explains how can New Zealand submit a new draft resolution calling for a cessation of violence in Aleppo and facilitate an access for UN relief convoys, only two weeks after the last Russian veto, be something natural and understandable.
Another option provided by the United Nations system, when the UN Security Council can no longer play its role, as is happening now, is to resort to the United Nations General Assembly, and call to a meeting under the name of “Uniting for Peace”, where a resolution should be binding, similar to a Security Council’s resolution, if it won approval by two-thirds of the Member States. This case took place only once in the history of the United Nations during the Korean crisis, when the Soviet Union used the veto, disrupting the Security Council, the General Assembly was called, and an alliance was formed to fight the Korean War supporting the southerners against the invasion of the North; and then the Soviet Union faced the armies of the UN forces, with those of the People’s Republic of China, which was not a member of the United Nations then.
Yes, this is available, and may happen due to the magnitude of the crimes and violations committed by the Russians, but the problem that is highlighted here is what kind of State is capable and enthusiastic enough to implement such a decision, and then, to lead its forces to intervene in a confrontation with the Russians and their allies, the probability is if the United States is not the one to take this type of action, it is doomed to fail, and will be added to by the list of Security Council resolutions that have not been implemented and, therefore, will contribute to the damage inflicted on the prestige of the international organization and weaken confidence in it.
However, and based on this option, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar prepared a draft of this kind for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 2164/2015 and 2254/2016, namely the items of breaking the siege on cities, and the delivery of relief supplies, and to stop targeting civilians. The project has won approval of a hundred countries so far. Both Canada and the Grand Duchy of Liechtenstein also submitted a request to the President of the General Assembly to convene a meeting of the Assembly to discuss the Syrian situation, and in the same context, the negotiating body sent a message to the President of the General Assembly, to convene a meeting of the Association under this title.
Another option that may collide with the reluctance dominant forces in the organization is what the French foreign minister threatened after the Russian veto, to review the veto power, and restrict its use across specific cases to prevent disabling the Security Council mechanisms. The importance of this proposal stems from the fact that it is the first time it has been suggested by a permanent member who has veto power.
Another option that could be resorted to by the necessary will, and had been already exercised in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which is when one permanent member or more, act outside the UN Security Council to overcome the Russian disruption under the rehabilitation of international law, which has been broken by Russia, in spite of the permanent claim to preserve it, or to maintain international peace and security, which were threatened by, or the application of international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians killed by Russian aviation; the problem is that such an option could not be done unless by the United States and its allies Britain and France, and these countries, and in particular the United States, has no intention to be involved in war in Syria so far.
When talking about the options, the Syrian opposition options need to be addressed, both the political and military sides, which is no doubt going through the most difficult phase they ever faced since the start of the freedom and dignity revolution; so it is likely that their supporting regional states have entered, or forced to engage in adjustments that would not necessarily serve the Syrian Revolution, and without taking the opinion of the opposition, contributing in further weakening and disappointing them.
But for the political opposition in particular and in principle, it is may a bad idea to rush into uncalculated or emotional reactions, naturally generated by the bitterness of the current state. The most useful would be continuing in explaining their case before the international community and world public opinion, strengthening the steadfastness of the Syrian people on the inside, and the mobilization of Syrians abroad, because perhaps these international and regional consensus are only temporary, or they may be shattered by the contradictions of conflicting interests, while this phase requires, more than ever, the integration of all “factions” under a public and a national program to waste the Russian opportunity to pass their continuous demands of characterising them into extremists and moderates in preparation for liquidating them whatever they were.