If UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point truce plan, backed by the Security Council, does not hold, Russia and China will find it very difficult to resist a third resolution condemning Assad into total isolation, experts have said.
This week, Turkey asked the UN Security Council to endorse a resolution that would include taking necessary measures to protect the Syrian people as a UN-brokered peace plan failed to end 13 months of violence there.
Sedat Laçiner, the rector of 18 Mart University in Çanakkale, told Sunday’s Zaman that Russia and China have provided Assad with more time by vetoing resolutions twice but it will not be easy for them to do it a third time. “I think both countries will re-evaluate their positions and take a stand very close to the Turkish one,” he said, adding he is very pessimistic about Assad’s full implementation of the Annan plan.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s increased criticism of the Syrian regime for using excessive force and dragging its feet on reforms in recent weeks may be the harbinger for a change in the Russian position on Assad. While meeting with his Syrian counterpart this week, he urged Syria to take the first step and pull its troops out from cities and towns in line with the Annan plan.
According to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who paid an official visit to China this week, Beijing has also signaled that it will no longer support the Assad regime in the face of a mounting death toll. “China is not in the same position as it was before,” Erdoğan told reporters in Beijing.
Laçiner stated that Russia and China have realized that even if they support the Syrian regime, Assad no longer has a future. “Russia and China will not confront Turkey and the West by continuing to support the Assad regime, which is a failed regime. There will be a definite change in the stances of Russia and China. When Russia and China change their stance towards the Assad regime, the UN Security Council will make a decision. In the first stage, these decisions will be about economic and political measures, which China and Russia will not oppose seriously,” said Laçiner.
In the meantime, Turkey increased its rhetoric against Assad this week. In a statement that may be interpreted as the harshest response yet to the escalating Syrian crisis, Prime Minister Erdoğan for the first time on Wednesday raised the possibility of calling on the NATO military alliance to protect Turkey’s border against incursions by Syrian forces.
In the meantime, a NATO spokesperson said on Thursday that Turkey had not asked the Alliance for help in dealing with Syria in the aftermath of a Syrian cross-border aggressive act earlier this week; however, he underlined that the Alliance “takes protecting its members very seriously,” saying that NATO was monitoring the situation very closely and would continue to do so.
Syria has promised to observe a UN-backed cease-fire starting on Thursday, but its forces kept up fierce attacks on opposition neighborhoods in the hours before the deadline. The shootings were still reported on Thursday after the 6 a.m. deadline passed. Bassma Kodmani, spokeswoman of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), said the truce was largely observed on Thursday, but that a heavy security presence, including checkpoints and snipers, remain. “There is no evidence of any significant withdrawal, however,” she told reporters in Geneva. Other opposition groups have said the death toll is still rising, with tanks on streets conducting operations.
For some experts, even if Russian and Chinese objections at the UN are dropped, outside help is needed for the opposition to topple the Syrian regime. Oytun Orhan, an expert on Syria from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Research (ORSAM), told Sunday’s Zaman that without implementing harsh military sanctions on Syria, in addition to diplomatic and economic sanctions, it would not be possible to restore stability in Syria. “There is no other way left to bring stability to Syria. The Assad regime, who was supported by Russia and China, feels free to carry out acts of violence against its own people. On the other side, the opposition, which is becoming organized day by day, continues its resistance. Therefore, both sides will continue their resistance until the regime collapses. It seems that without external support, the current regime cannot collapse,” said Orhan.
In recent weeks, the government has escalated military attacks on opposition strongholds, particularly after the cease-fire timeline was announced at the beginning of April, prompting accusations that Assad was using the peace plan as cover for more violence.
In the meanwhile, Turkey is considering setting up a “security” or “buffer” zone along its border with Syria, Prime Minister Erdoğan said on March 16.
Touching on the possibility of the buffer zone, Orhan said the buffer zone is necessary in order to maintain the security of the opposition groups, which are targeted by the Assad regime.
“Enough support should be given to the opposition or else the Assad regime will repress all of them. Turkey has legitimate reasons to create a buffer zone: first, if the numbers of the refugees exceed 100,000; second, if the Assad regime carries out an attack on Hatay, a border province. In these cases, Turkey can use these actions to justify a buffer zone on Syrian soil,” said Orhan.
The number of refugees who have fled to Turkey from the violence in Syria has exceeded 25,000. Regarding these refugees, Erdoğan stated that Turkey will never close its doors to the Syrian people even if this number reaches 100,000, in accordance with Turkey’s “open door” policy on Syrian refugees.
When asked about the possibility of a decision to intervene militarily coming out of the UN Security Council, Orhan replied that a decision for military intervention or for the creation of a buffer zone would definitely come out if Russia and China change their stances.
A resolution adopted by the Security Council last March regarding Libya cleared the way for NATO to militarily intervene in the Arab country. Russia repeatedly said it will veto a similar resolution with respect to its ally Syria, which it said was a Western ruse to justify a Libya-style intervention.
İhsan Dağı, a professor at the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), told Sunday’s Zaman that a military solution was not a rational one. “It is not possible to resolve the Syrian issue with military intervention. First, it is very tough to find an eager player to carry out this intervention. Second, there is no guarantee that this military intervention will bring a stable government after the collapse of the regime. Indeed, military intervention can topple the Assad regime, but it cannot possibly cope with the security problem in the post-Assad period,” said Dağı.
Dağı also underlined that while leaving the option of military intervention on the table, states should also continue their economic and diplomatic pressures in order to create the possibility of a transition process. “The possibility of a transition period can be livable only when Assad is isolated both in the regional and global sphere. If Russia changes its stance and does not veto, Assad will no longer resist and this will led Syria to enter into a transition period. In my opinion, this method is more concrete and rational than military intervention,” said Dağı.
After 13 months of bloodshed, a revolt that began as a mostly peaceful movement against Assad’s stagnant and entrenched regime has morphed into an insurgency. More than 10,000 people have been killed since the uprising began, and the toll continues to climb every day. Regime forces assault opponents with tanks, machine guns and snipers.
Tayyar Arı, a professor at Uludağ University, told Sunday’s Zaman that the Syrian crisis has significant differences from other crises. “The Syrian crisis is very different from the events which took place in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. These differences prevent a solution being found to the crisis. Reconciliation of the opposition will be harder in Syria compared to the other countries,” said Arı.
“In the previous crisis the attitudes of the US, China and Russia were very different. There was no serious opposition from China and Russia and this led to solving the crisis easily,” he added.
When asked how to read the stances of Russia and China, Arı replied that it was not only the Assad regime that benefited from the stances of both countries but also the West. “We see that the US is against military intervention as well as Russia and China. For Assad, this is enough support to buy more time. The other countries’ attitudes are not very different from Russia and China; at least Russia has a clear stance. For instance, the US wants Assad to go but doesn’t want to take any action,” he claimed.
Arı also noted that military intervention at this stage is a weak option. “The only way to stop the bloodshed is to isolate Assad and to take serious sanctions against his regime. “China and Russia should use all the measures available to isolate Assad,” he emphasized.