On the surface, the Russians have not backed off from their support to the regime in Syria, and the Assad regime itself did not retreat from the military solution. The reason is that their open acceptance of a political solution that embodies the ousting of Bashar Assad will bring a quick collapse of the regime. In this case, the regime of Assad will fall down overnight. The results of the just-concluded Geneva conference on Syria came nevertheless as a recognition of the end of the Assad regime, but without clearly saying that.
The ideas deliberated in Geneva and Kofi Annan's six-point plan are of no value today, because the freedom fighters will not stop their advance and the regime has nothing to offer except the military solution. The Geneva meeting in a nutshell is a recognition of the end of the Assad regime. The Russians have accepted the idea to look for an alternative solution. This will be a temporary solution, such as a joint government to enable Assad to take his furniture out of the presidential palace to another place. The idea of a coalition government was an old one that was presented late last year by Iran and Russia with the aim of dividing the opposition. The two countries called for he participation of the opposition in the government of Assad, who would remain president. Now, the Russians want a coalition government to include Assad and some of his men. This is a ploy to buy time for Assad to arrange his exit.
We should take into consideration that since that time, the situation on the ground is changing against the regime. Its forces are continuously losing their grip on most areas of the country. They were besieging the freedom fighters in Homs in January. Now the freedom fighters are attacking the regime’s forces in Damascus. Thousands of soldiers and officers have deserted the army and joined the freedom fighters.
Why would Assad’s allies, namely Russia and Iran, not publicly accept a solution that would exclude Assad? The reason is that any public announcement of their acceptance to a solution that excludes Assad would lead to the immediate downfall of the regime. The announcement that Assad would go, in whatever form, would create panic among his supporters. Therefore, the Russians might accept a solution that would exclude Assad without announcing his exiting before making arrangements with the freedom fighters and the countries supporting them. This matter might be too late now.
The allies of the revolution have no intention of dashing into the unknown if there is a solution without Assad that would preserve the safety and territorial integrity of Syria and prevent the outbreak of a civil war. This means that they are ready to back a real solution that is fair and practical, includes the ousting of Assad and all his men from power, and ensures giving power to the opposition with the condition to maintain the unity of the country. The solution, which will be acceptable to the countries supporting the revolution, should also include the formation of a transitional government under international supervision so as to prevent chaos and vindictive operations.
The problem had always been Moscow. Now it is Assad who will foil this solution. I think he has been aware since the beginning of the year that he has lost the battle and wants to take the country into a civil war that will ensure him with some power somewhere in the country. He is sure that a civil war will make him lose his rule, which he already lost, but will ensure him of some authority in the areas dominated by the Alawiyeen (his religious sect) when he escapes out of Damascus. He may establish a state there with an international mandate.
Assad is sure that a civil war will oblige the Alawiyeen to support him. A solution according to the Yemeni style, i.e giving up power peacefully as the Russians want, will see him ending a political refugee in a cottage at the Black Sea under Russian protection.
The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the Saudi-based Arab News on July 3, 2012