Russia did not suddenly sign on to a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Syria because of mounting global pressure to do so, as mainstream Western media glosses over it. Moscow was taking its time, hedging its bets and waiting for the right moment to step into the fray.
Rather than jump right in Washington style, only to find that the side you thought you were working with is less than cohesive and vulnerable to being hijacked by extremist elements supported by allies who have slightly different agendas, Russia waited for the dust to settle.
Just as importantly, Moscow was waiting for the results of its presidential elections – the man who would carry the torch for Russia’s Syria strategy. To that end, Vladimir Putin won Russia’s presidential elections on 2 March and will be inaugurated on 7 May. So now, down to business.
Immediately upon his election victory, Putin made his position on Syria clear: Moscow was not terribly interested in supporting Assad and had no special relationship with the regime.
Then, on 21 March, the UNSC unanimously passed a resolution on Syria, demanding a cessation of violence, an end to troop movements and security operations in population centers, a system for getting humanitarian aid in safely, among other things. The resolution also remains committed to Syria’s “sovereignty”.
Russia bided its time well, reminding everyone of its potential in the meantime by throwing some weapons the way of Syrian leader Bashir al-Assad and deploying warships to its Syrian naval base in the port of Tartus. All the while it had China to back up its delayed commitment to the UNSC.
Moscow wanted to know what the playing field might look light if the Assad regime fell, and it also wanted to see whether the US would pursue a Libya-style military intervention, as well as how that relationship would unfold with US allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly with Saudi Arabia. Russia also waited to see what Turkey, on Syria’s border and threatened with the implications of a civil war next door, would do.
Now that the US has found itself without a real partner in Syria, while Saudi Arabia and Qatar play dangerous games with extremist anti-regime forces in a bid to strengthen the Sunni Triangle, Washington is reaching out to Russia.
While everyone else was certain of a more expeditious fall for Assad, Moscow was not so sure. Indeed, the regime has held on and shows no signs of weakening just yet. The new UNSC resolution does not demand Assad’s immediate removal from power.
Reports say that Annan will be visiting Moscow in the coming days to discuss Syria. This is not to say that Russia holds all the cards in Syria’s future. In actual fact, it probably holds very few, but in the least, Moscow looks to be the new (oddly) “Western” voice in the conflict.
By Jen Alic of ISA Intel (Jen Alic is a co-founder of ISA Intel and the former editor-in-chief of ISN Security Watch, Zurich)