Moscow reaches out to Syrian opposition to head off Western military action
DEBKAfile Special Report October 10, 2011, 9:15 AM (GMT+02:00)
Five days after defeating a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning Bashar Assad's savagery against his opposition, Moscow turned the heat on him by inviting an opposition delegation for a visit Monday, Oct. 10 and offering to host talks between the Syrian government and the opposition umbrella Syrian National Council. Syrian Foreign Minister Wallid Moallem threatened unspecified "tough measures" against any countries recognizing the council, evidently fearing a repeat of the Libyan exercise which toppled Muammar Qaddafi.
Damascus also pointedly released a rare photo of President Assad with his army chiefs, a not so gentle hint that tough measures might well take military form.
In issuing the invitation, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov explained: "Our main message is that all the problems which have accumulated in Syria over many years can't be resolved through force or confrontation" – a failed mark equally assigned by Moscow to Assad's methods of suppression and potential foreign intervention. "In our view there is no alternative to broad-based political dialogue," the Russian official insisted.
debkafile's Russian and Iranian sources report that Moscow's willingness to receive a delegation of the newly formed opposition council has gone down badly not just in Damascus but also in Tehran.
Sunday, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's senior military adviser warned Turkey to "radically rethink its policies on Syria, the NATO missile shield and promoting Muslim secularism in the Arab world – or face trouble from its own people and neighbors."
Maj.-Gen. Yahya Rahim-Safavi did not mention Russia, but his warning coinciding as it did with the Syrian foreign minister's threat did not go unnoticed in Moscow.
Turkey was singled out by name when Moallem said that Syria's hands were not bound and it would retaliate against any Turkish moves.
The Erdogan government did not wait for the Security Council before imposing its own sanctions on Syria. Furthermore, Istanbul was the venue for the foundation of the Syrian National Council umbrella of all opposition groups for the declared goal of replacing the Assad regime and seeking recognition as the legitimate rulers of Syria from Arab governments including Egypt.
The Turkish army also staged a large-scale army mobilization exercise on the Syrian border from Oct. 2 to Oct. 13.
debkafile's sources report that Damascus views all these steps as replicating the process which led to the ouster of the Qaddafi regime in Libya and its replacement with forcible NATO backing by the National Transitional Council.
Russia was and remains flatly opposed to the Western alliance's military intervention in Libya following its recognition of the NTC in Benghazi as legitimate rulers of Libya and is determined to deny the West an opening for similar military action in Syria. Hence the Russian veto, along with China, of a Security Council motion paving the way for such action.
For a few days, Syrian President Assad was allowed to hail this diplomatic success far and wide as attesting to the support of his regime by two big world powers.
However, his victory march was short lived. Friday, President Dmitry Medvedev admonished the Syrian president by saying:“If the Syrian leadership is incapable of conducting reforms, it will have to go, but this decision should be taken not in NATO or certain European countries, it should be taken by the Syrian people,” he said.
Then, after the assassination of Kurdish leader Mashaal Tammo at his home in Qamishli, the White House for the first time called on Assad to go. Spokesman Jay Carney said the Syrian ruler must "step down now before taking his country farther down this very dangerous path."
All at once, President Assad was confronted by two very strong voices telling him his time was up. When he failed to respond, Moscow stepped up the diplomatic pressure by reaching out to the Syrian opposition, the first government to do so after Turkey. This setback was serious enough to alarm the Assad regime and elicit threats.
In the case of Libya, Russia went along with the Obama administration – but only in as far as helping to negotiate the installation of an alternative government in Tripoli for the opposition to share power with Qaddafi's sons. This diplomatic collaboration was cut short in August by the French-British-Qatari-Jordanian special forces' conquest of Tripoli. Moscow is now bidding to broker a similar power-sharing administration to take the reins of government in Damascus from the bloody hands of the Assad regime. Only this time, the Russians hope to act in time to preempt Western military intervention in Syria.
Last week, the Syrian ruler threatened to flatten Tel Aviv and Jordanian cities if attacked.