Asharq Al-Awsat -By Tariq Alhomayed
Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to arrive in Istanbul where a number of economic agreements between the two countries will be signed. Of course, the issue of the Syrian crisis will be a prominent subject of discussion in the meeting between the Turkish Prime Minister and the Russian President, so should we be expecting, or waiting for, a change in the Russian stance towards the Syrian revolution?
Nothing is certain; all we have to go on are leaks and indications. For example, the Russian Ambassador to Ankara recently said that his country wants to move on from the incident when a Syrian plane, suspected of transporting Russian weapons to the al-Assad regime, was forced to land in Turkey in October, saying that “the sooner we overcome this infamous incident the better!”.
Of course the question here is: Better for whom? Would it be better for Turkey, with its security, politics and economy that are being adversely affected by the Syrian crisis? Or would it be better for Moscow, which has gone to great lengths to indulge in the Syrian bloodshed, from supporting al-Assad with arms to using its veto at the UN Security Council? It is in Turkey’s interests for its Syrian neighbor to be secure and peaceful, and this will only be achieved by putting an end to al-Assad’s crimes and honoring the desire of the Syrian people, more than 40,000 of whom have now fallen victim to the al-Assad regime. It is not immediately clear or understandable what Russia stands to achieve from endorsing a man who kills his own people, the tyrant of Damascus, especially as the battle has now reached the Syrian capital Damascus, not just the outskirts of the city. It is clear that the Syrian revolutionaries want to overthrow the regime directly, not just capture cities, and the reality on the ground dictates that Russia’s interests in al-Assad’s survival, whatever they might be, have become threatened, especially as the battle is beginning to surround the tyrant. If it was simply a matter of political cost then Russia would certainly pay a very low price at the moment, given the developments on the ground, and thus Russia’s interests are incomprehensible, especially with its excessive defense of al-Assad.
Highly informed sources have revealed that the Russians are saying they are now in a stage of re-evaluating their stance towards Syria, and Bashar al-Assad, and this is something that they have alluded to in several recent meetings in the region. This is also what Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is striving to achieve, having indicated his desire to exert efforts to convince the Russians to amend their stance towards Syria. Erdogan said: “Putin arrives in Turkey on Monday… We are going to discuss this question in depth”, suggesting that the cards are in Russia’s hands. He went on to say: “If Russia shows a more positive position, that could push Iran to re-examine the situation”. On the other hand, Arab parties concerned with the Syrian issue say that they are no longer interested in Russian statements and hints, or even promises. According to what I heard from one figure, who is influential in Syrian affairs, talking about the Russian stance, he said: “we are beyond the phase of paying attention to words, we are now in the phase of actions”. However, if Russia adopts a clear and explicit stance then of course every action has a reaction. The reason that those concerned with the Syrian issue are adopting this kind of language now stems from the course of events on the ground in Syria. Will Erdogan succeed in waking the Russian bear from its slumber, and convince it that it is losing more and more each day from its intransigent position on Syria? We will see.