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Moscow's Hesitancy to Support the Arab Uprisings.

Russia is leading the movement opposed to holding Arab regimes to account at the Security Council, alongside China, certain African countries and sometimes Lebanon, in stances that have aroused the resentment of Arab opposition movements. In truth, the latter once believed that Russia and China stood alongside peoples, and not against them. In fact, such sentiments may have indeed played a role in the radical transformation of Russia's stance on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi during the G8 Summit in Deauville, especially as this angry new generation might soon become the ruling generation in the Arab region, when the revolutions there reach their conclusions. Nonetheless, it is most likely that the Russian leadership has realized that the Gaddafi regime has become a thing of the "past", and that the NATO did not quite get implicated in a quagmire. Instead, NATO seems to have begun the countdown to victory, in favor of the Libyan National Transitional Council, which represents the "future". This is with regard to Libya, where Russia has undergone a 180-degree turnaround in terms of its stances.

On Syria, on the other hand, Moscow is still trapped obstinate and resistant, although it has insinuated from Deauville that it is preparing to reconsider its position. This means that Russia is observing the events in Syria not just from the viewpoint of its strategic relationship with Syria, but also on the basis of the dictates of new and unexpected developments on the Syrian scene. This is alongside Moscow's observing how the United States, Europe, its Arab neighbors and Iran are tackling the Syrian question. Similarly regarding Yemen, Russia is sending out indications that it does not want the Security Council to "interfere" in Yemen's affairs, considering the events there, from its point of view, "an internal matter". Yet here too, Russia might be forced to backtrack based on the dictates of events and developments on the ground.

It is no longer possible for Russia or any other major power to sit at the Security Council table, or at the table where it drafts its strategic policies, and dictate to Arab and other peoples what it deems appropriate. The situation is different now, as Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States are all being monitored and held to account by public opinions, as well as by humanitarian and legal Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). This not only involves the stances those countries take on the issues that find their way to the Security Council through the Arab uprisings. It also involves the issues that might find their way to the United Nations, such as the battle for the "recognition" of Palestine as an independent state, pursuant to the Palestinian strategy that aims to gather international support for their state, to be established alongside the State of Israel on the basis of the 1967 armistice lines. While there is much uproar ensuing from the misinterpretation of this process, the obscurity of the stances taken by Europe and by Russia gives rise to closer examination and observation, and raises many questions in this new era of accountability, an era launched by the Arab awakening.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand the Russian, Chinese and African stances is through the Libyan issue, despite its numerous complications. Moscow sees what has happened at the Security Council regarding the Libyan issue as a coup against precedents and known traditions, to such a point that it was driven to it out of sheer embarrassment and compulsion. The same applies to China and to the African countries at the Security Council: South Africa, Gabon and Nigeria. And while Lebanon took part in this "coup", so to speak, regarding the issue of Libya, it stands today at the opposite of what it did back then, perhaps against its will, because the matter involves Syria.

Moscow views the operations carried out by NATO in Libya as having politically - not legally - overstepped the authority granted by the Security Council Resolution. It thus criticized, protested and threatened not to allow such a precedent to be repeated again. Nevertheless, the success of NATO's operations - albeit limited so far - has made Moscow reconsider its stances and its interests, so that it may not seem to the Libyan people that Russia is in collusion with the Gaddafi regime. It thus finally told Gaddafi, in the words of the Russian President: Step down.

Meanwhile, China has stood behind Russia on this issue as it does on most Middle Eastern issues, with the exception of Sudan, which it has made a priority for oil-related reasons. As for the African countries, they have acted to their own detriment, in their hesitation and in terms of the divisions among them, some of which due to the "debt" they owe to Gaddafi. However, the failure of the initiative made by the South African President Jacob Zuma, who visited Tripoli twice and did not visit Benghazi once, has brought an end to patience towards Africa. That visit made clear that Muammar Gaddafi would not step down from power and would not leave, as well as the fact that he really is convinced that he is, as he says, above accountability and decision-making because he is a "symbol" and does not hold a "post".

Today, there is no way to decrease the human cost in Libya and to prevent its partitioning, except by NATO resolving to quickly settle the battle. The more the battle in Libya is prolonged, the more atrocities will take place, and the number of victims will rise, the bloodshed will escalate and the likelihood of partitioning Libya will increase.

Moreover, the rebels in Libya are required to abide by international laws more than the Libyan regime itself is. If they commit war crimes or crimes against humanity, or act treacherously by mimicking the practices of the regime they are overthrowing, then they will have no right to demand recognition as an alternative to this regime.

But the opposition in Libya is in a much better situation than the opposition in Syria, where protesters put their lives at risk with neither military support nor funds being taken out of or guaranteed by frozen assets. The Libyan opposition has gathered international support, including Russia's own reversal on its stances. The light shines bright at the end of the Libyan tunnel, but it flickers dimly at the end of the Syrian tunnel. In spite of this, the Syrian people is achieving victories that were unexpected, and Russia, China and others have been forced to take into consideration the events taking place on the Syrian scene. They, as well as others, owe a debt now to Hamza Al-Khatib, the thirteen year old Syrian boy, and they are all eagerly rushing after the new formula, that of the Arab scene imposing dictates on the UN Security Council, and not the other way around- this including the US Administration.

Meanwhile, US officials say that their resolve is not less vehement than that of the Europeans on Syria, but that their caution is due to differences in tactics to embarrass Russia and China, and to thrust them in a corner where they would be forced to use their veto against any decision at the Security Council regarding Syria. The fact of the matter is that the US stance appears to Damascus as hesitance to act resolutely with the Syrian regime, especially as the sanctions imposed by the US were not comprehensive and as the US Ambassador remains in Damascus, despite being "suspended" by a Syrian decision.

Further, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that he does not want Libya's model to be applied to Syria for many reasons, most importantly his insistence on not excluding Russia from any decision taken on the issue of Syria. The experience of Libya has left a bitter taste in Russia's mouth. In addition, the Syrian issue has both an Iranian and an Israeli dimension, wherein Russia insists on being at the forefront of the international strategy. This is why it is behaving defiantly and wagering on the loss of Western resolve towards Damascus. It is also monitoring developments in Iran, Israel and Lebanon, and is trying to play its cards without damaging them irreversibly.

Russia, and with it the United States, Europe, China and Arab countries, is observing what is happening in Iran in terms of the repercussions on Syria. One veteran analyst on the Islamic Republic of Iran, and on the struggle between the Mullahs and the Iranian "Nationalists" led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that there is today in Tehran "a two-headed hawk, and a two-headed hawk cannot soar". In Ahmadinejad's view, the religious path in Iran lacks popular support, and therefore the rule of the Mullahs must be ended. This is why, according to the same veteran analyst, Ahmadinejad is "cleansing" the government of Mullahs, as the majority of Iran's ambassadors are laymen, with the exception of the Ambassador in Damascus. He says that the army is also on Ahmadinejad's side, out of fear that eroding support for the Mullahs might lead to weakening the ruling regime in Tehran.

The world's major powers are divided over the Iranian-Syrian formula. Some of them consider that taking determined action towards the Syrian regime will rein in Iran in Lebanon. Others believe that pressuring the Syrian regime into a corner will result in an Iranian escalation in Lebanon through Hezbollah, flaring up the front against Israel. There are also those who point to the secret relationship between Israel and Iran and to Israeli efforts with the US Congress to stop pressure on the regime in Syria, efforts which American circles say have lately decreased.

Clearly, the Palestinian issue has been excluded from the Iranian-Syrian formula at this juncture, and the card of "resistance" waved by each of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah has therefore been weakened. Here too, Russia's stances fall under obstinacy and outbidding others, and not just the stances of Europe and the United States.

The US Administration opposes heading to the United Nations to request the accession of Palestine to the organization, but Europe too is divided in this respect and Russia is observing from afar. The issue is not necessarily one of "accession", but will most likely be one of "recognition". While the real battle is over Europe, Russia seems also reluctant, even on this issue.

The time has come for Russia to show its true colors regarding Arab issues, those connected to the awakening of Arab peoples as well as those connected to what Russia had claimed to have firm positions on, like the Palestinian Cause.

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Publication:Dar Al Hayat, International ed. (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Jun 3, 2011
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