[Marxism] Rats jump from sinking ship?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 7 06:20:22 MST 2012

In Syrian war's end game, Moscow maneuvers away from Assad
By Carol J. Williams
December 7, 2012, 2:00 a.m.

As concerns mount that Syrian President Bashar Assad could unleash 
chemical weapons against his opponents, the Kremlin appears to be 
recalibrating its support for a desperate ally.

Russia three times has wielded its veto power in the U.N. Security 
Council to shield Assad from international condemnation for brutality 
against Syrians fighting for his ouster, a 21-month-old siege that by 
some accounts has taken 40,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled the first step back from 
ardent defense of Assad after a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister 
Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week. Putin and Erdogan left their Istanbul 
meeting still occupying opposite positions on the need for Turkey to 
defend itself from stray Syrian rocket fire with NATO-supplied Patriot 
missiles, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. But they also 
agreed to pursue “some new, fresh ideas” in hope of resolving the 
intractable conflict, Peskov said.

Pentagon chief Leon E. Panetta said Thursday that Western intelligence 
agencies had been warning in recent days that the increasingly isolated 
Assad may be positioning missiles to fire payloads of sarin gas against 

Though Moscow and Washington have been bitterly divided over a potential 
role for Assad’s loyalists in a post-war Syria, the erstwhile 
superpowers share concern about the potential for horrific escalation if 
Assad turns to his poison gas arsenal for a last blast at the rebels or 
the neighbor states he accuses of supporting them.

Jolted out of their diplomatic standoff by the prospect of chemical 
warfare, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of 
State Hillary Rodham Clinton met twice Thursday on the fringes of a 
human rights gathering in Dublin, Ireland. In the second meeting, they 
were joined by the special U.N. and Arab League envoy on Syria, Lakhdar 

“We haven’t taken any sensational decisions,” the Associated Press 
quoted Brahimi as saying after the meeting. “But I think we have agreed 
that the situation is bad, and we have agreed that we must continue to 
work together to see how we can find creative ways of bringing this 
problem under control and hopefully starting to resolve it.”

The U.S. State Department issued a brief statement saying that the next 
step would be a meeting of Brahimi and senior U.S. and Russian officials 
in the next few days to discuss "taking this work forward."

As the chief U.S. and Russian diplomats huddled in Dublin, Deputy 
Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was sending positive messages via 
Twitter about reports that the United States was about to declare the Al 
Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front a terrorist organization. Russia has long 
accepted Assad’s assertions that the rebellion in Syria is driven by 
foreign enemies, and the U.S. branding of Al Nusra, which is allied with 
the rebellion, gives Moscow another patch of common ground on which to 
stand with Washington.

Russian officials are now modifying their stance toward Assad because it 
is becoming increasingly obvious that he will eventually be toppled, 
international security experts say.

“Russian officials certainly sound as though they've downgraded Assad's 
survival chances,” said Stephen Sestanovich, senior fellow for Russian 
and Eurasian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

It remains to be seen, Sestanovich said, whether Moscow is just 
repositioning itself diplomatically ahead of Assad’s fall or seeks to 
play a direct role in negotiating an end to the conflict, perhaps 
persuading Assad to take up one of the rumored offers of foreign exile.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad recently visited the 
Venezuelan capital of Caracas, triggering speculation that the leftist 
leadership of ailing President Hugo Chavez was open to giving refuge to 
the embattled Assad and his top lieutenants. The Guardian newspaper of 
Britain and Israel’s Haaretz have also reported alleged asylum offers 
from Cuba, Ecuador, Tunisia, Qatar, Belarus and Russia.

Andrew Tabler, Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East 
Policy, dismisses the notion that Assad would be safe in foreign exile 
from assassination by angry countrymen, with the possible exception of 
Iran. He holds out the prospect that Assad could live up to his promise 
never to abandon his Syrian homeland, especially if the civil war is 
ended by breaking the country into sectarian components. Assad is of the 
minority Alawite population, a Shiite Muslim-aligned sect concentrated 
in the mountainous coastal region of Latakia.

Assad’s fall would be a blow to Russia, no matter how Syria’s chief ally 
scrambles in the civil war’s 11th hour to put itself on the right side 
of history, Tabler said. Opposition forces will dominate any post-Assad 
leadership, and many will hold a grudge against the country that propped 
up their nemesis through the long bloodletting.

“The Russians don’t want him. Anyone who takes him in is going to be the 
target of a lot of anger,” Tabler said.

Moscow wants to avoid becoming the object of bitter resentment, Tabler 
said, as the United States did by sheltering the shah of Iran after the 
Islamic Revolution, setting in motion an adversarial relationship that 
persists more than three decades later.

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