As Russia and China vetoed in the Security Council on an Arab-Western resolution that forces Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hand power to his vice president as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh did, many wondered why Moscow and Beijing are adamant on supporting the Assad regime.
There are several reasons that make Russia give full support to the current Syrian regime. The relationship between the two countries goes back to more than four decades at the time of the former Soviet Union. The Tartus naval base is the only one Russia has outside its territories and constitutes its sole access point to the Mediterranean Sea. Syria pays billions of dollars to purchase Russian arms and the last Yak-130 warplanes deal amounted to 550 million U.S. dollars.
Russia has not yet been able to get over the Libyan trauma and is not willing to reenact the same scenario in Syria. Russia has realized that by abstention from voting for Resolution 1973 on Libya, the United States and its allies were able to pass an agreement that was initially meant to protect civilians then turned into a plot to topple Qaddafi, a strategic ally of Moscow and one of its most prominent arms importers.
Moreover, the United States, France, and Britain gained easy access to the Libyan territories while the Libyan interim council showed no keenness to maintain relations with Russia. Russia is worried that the same might happen in Syria especially if Islamists come to power and the impact this is bound to have on the oil and gas rich Caucasus populated by a Muslim majority and especially in the light of the growing Turkish influence in the region.
China’s concerns over Islamists:
China’s support of the Syrian regime is closely linked to its relations with Iran, an ally of Syria, and which exports to the People’s Republic one quarter of the oil it imports from the region. In addition, Beijing lost a lot of investments in Tripoli following the fall of the Qaddafi regime and more than 20,000 Chinese workers were deported from Libya.
Complexities of the Syrian crisis:
A lot of talk is now going on about possible scenarios for resolving the Syrian crisis and many believe that the Assad regime’s fall would be a reenactment of what happened in Libya, Egypt, or Tunisia. Comparing Syria with these countries is not possible for many reasons. On the international level, there is a Russian-American conflict over this region. On the regional level, there is an Iranian-Gulf conflict in addition to Turkey’s hopes in reviving the Ottoman Empire after losing home in EU membership. On the domestic level, it is not possible to compare Syria with Libya or Egypt. The Syrian society is pluralist in a way that makes it quite similar to Lebanon and Iraq even though the majority of its population is Muslim Sunni.
The possible settlement:
Despite the blood bath in which Syria has been drenched for more than 10 months, there is still a possibility of reaching a settlement similar to the Taef Agreement on Lebanon and which was signed in and under the auspices of Saudi Arabia with the approval of Syria and the United States. The agreement resulted in constitutional amendments that transferred some of the powers to which the Maronite president is entitled to the Cabinet, which is headed by a Sunni, and in dividing administrative positions in the public sector equally between Muslims and Christians. The same could be done in Syria through reducing the powers of the Alawite president while increasing those of the cabinet, headed by a Sunni, and an agreement can be reached about the distribution of official positions fairly amongst different echelons of society.
The repercussions of the failure of the agreement:
In case the agreement fails to reach a political settlement, civil war will be the only alternative. Sunnis will gain more power in their areas and Alawites and their allies from the Baath Party will also retreat to theirs. Other minorities, like Christians, Druze, Kurds, and Ismailis, will start isolating themselves. Meanwhile, deportations among cities with mixed population will take place like what is happening now in the neighborhoods of Homs.
What is worrisome is that the civil war in Syria might extend to neighboring countries, especially Iraq and Lebanon, in the light of the tension in the region and the Arab Spring revolutions. This could lead to the creation of several federalist systems within the same state or maybe even statelets. The presence of sectarian entities in the entities will make it easier for Israel to confirm itself as a Jewish state like its leaders want and in the light of the emerging ethnic and sectarian entities in the region, this would be done without any awkwardness on the part of Israeli officials.
The writer is a producer with Al Arabiya. This article was translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid