Syrian conundrum

January 28, 2013 - 12:55:51 am

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s statement that chances of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad staying in power were growing smaller and smaller must be taken with a pinch of salt. Coming from the leader of a country which has been giving unflinching support to Bashar, it only serves to cause confusion and create doubts in the minds of Syrians and the international community about the direction of Russia’s Syria policy.

Medvedev’s remarks were the most vocal Russian statement yet that his days may now be numbered.  “I think that with every day, every week and every month, the chances of his preservation are getting smaller and smaller,” Medvedev said, adding that Assad’s fate has to be decided by the Syrian people, not by any outside forces. If the Russian leader meant what he said, it should have reflected in its policy. If Moscow is sure about Assad’s downfall, it must adjust its policy to suit the new realities on the ground which would involve supporting international efforts to bring peace to the country. At the same time, Moscow remains adamant in its support for Assad. Medvedev repeated the stance that the West and regional powers must persuade the warring parties to sit down for negotiations, and not just demand that Assad go and then be executed like Gaddafi or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like Hosni Mubarak.

Russia has been the biggest stumbling block in initiating UN action against Assad and has consistently vetoed UN resolutions seeking action against him.

Russian opinion is in stark contrast to two recent statements from France and Jordan about Assad’s fate. Jordan’s King Abdullah said Assad would consolidate his grip for now. Anybody who is saying the regime of Bashar has got weeks to live really doesn’t know the reality on the ground, he said in Davos on Friday, adding they still have capability, and so he give them a strong shot at least for the first half of 2013. France said on Thursday there was no sign Assad was about to be overthrown, reversing previous statements that he could not hold out long.

The conflicting statements about Assad’s fate are an indication of the current state of confusion over Syria. There is no doubt that the rebels have lost some of the momentum they gained towards the middle of the uprising and are now struggling to continue their fight. Arab leaders, which were enthusiastic to expedite the ouster of Assad, have now developed cold feet. The Syrian opposition too has been wobbling in their efforts to present a united front.

In the current scenario, what is required is a reassessment of the situation. Rebels and their backers need to meet to discuss the situation and plan their strategy. Otherwise, this will become an uprising which neither side will win or lose.