Thursday, 21 June 2012

Putin the peacemaker for Syria? That's not how it's worked out in Chechnya and Georgia

Barack Obama’s latest plan to save Syria is to outsource the problem to Russia. It's a solution tantamount to inviting a date rapist to lead a Take Back the Night rally. But it’s entirely consistent with the administration’s foreign policy in general, premised on the idea that regimes which blame the United States for their own political instability or rampant criminality don’t really mean what they say and can be charmed into comity.

Since the start of the Syrian uprising, Russia has consistently defended Syria at the UN Security Council, amplifying its defense in direct proportion to gruesomeness evidenced by the Assad regime. It has blamed the Syrian opposition for atrocities clearly carried out by proxies of that regime. Despite professing a commitment to Kofi Annan’s six-point cease-fire agreement, Russia has continued to arm Assad with the latest battle tanks, air defense systems and who knows what else, denying that any of this will be used against the civilian population. Even as the grisly massacre in Houla got underway, a Russian-flagged vessel – this one owned by billionaire oligarch Vladimir Lisin – was docking in the port of Tartus to offload yet another consignment of weapons.

Alexander Golts in The Moscow Times has written the best analysis of why Putin continues to back Syria’s dictator even in the face of international reprehension: “Putin identifies with Assad, former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He is firmly convinced that democracy, the rule of law and human rights are all little more than contrivances that allow the West to control weaker nations.”

Putin realises that he, too, could wind up in an iron cage in front of a tribunal wanting to know how the price of his personal timepiece collection vastly exceeds his declared annual salary. To prevent this from happening, he has fashioned a funhouse mirror image of the system he believes exists in the West, authoritarianism tricked out as “managed democracy.”

What might a Russian-brokered transition in Syria look like?

Perhaps the best case study is Chechnya, home to another restive Muslim people, summarily categorized as Islamist terrorists and therefore deemed fair game for indiscriminate bombing campaigns, house-to-house raids, rapes and disappearances. Since 2003, Chechnya has been ruled as an undisguised and thoroughly corrupt satrapy of the Kremlin. Its current “president,” Ramzan Kadyrov, has repeatedly rigged elections to give the ruling United Russia Party a Ba’ath-like showing of upwards of 99 percent. Prior to the last Duma election in December, Chechen officials claimed that there were 608,797 registered voters; 611,099 ballots were subsequently cast. According to the US State Department’s 2011 human rights report on Russia, Kadyrov’s  government “continues to violate fundamental freedoms, engage in collective retribution against families of suspected militants, and foster an overall atmosphere of fear and intimidation.” A Syrian Kadyrov is easy enough to imagine: Maher al-Assad, Bashar’s more sadistic brother, could assume the presidency and allow Putin to declare a “cosmetic” transition in effect.

But how can Assad continue to blast cities and villages and deploy his tanks and helicopter gunships even as his Kremlin ally professes its solemn commitment to the Annan protocol? Consider the previous six-point ceasefire agreement Putin signed onto but has subsequently used as kitty litter: the one governing the close of the 2008 Russian-Georgian War. Moscow has not only ignored the plan’s clear demands for the “non-use of force” and for Russia to withdraw its troops from occupied territory, but it has further entrenched Russia’s military and intelligence apparatuses on foreign soil, in clear contravention of international law.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two breakaway regions over which the 2008 war was fought, have effectively been annexed by the Russian Federation, as a new briefing by my colleague Alexandros Petersen shows. Russia has engaged in the deliberate dispossession of ethnic Georgians in these territories, much like Assad’s Alawite-majority militias are now ethnically cleansing Sunni neighbourhoods in Hama. Ten thousand Russian troops and security personnel equipped with battle tanks, artillery and aircraft, are now stationed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where many villages have been razed or burnt to ground to make way for Russian military installations. South Ossetia’s entire budget and the majority of Abkhazia’s are funded directly by Moscow and the top ranks of both local “governments” are filled with Russian nationals, many of them agents of Russian military intelligence (GRU) or its domestic intelligence agency, the FSB. The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) designated to observe the terms of the 2008 cease-fire has been routinely prevented from doing so, just as the current UN mission to Syria has been kept by Syrian army checkpoints from surveying the latest massacre in al-Qubeir.

More revealing, though, is the length to which Putin will go to destabilise a pro-Western country in its “near-abroad”, much less a pro-Western opposition in the Mediterranean. US intelligence agencies confirmed what the Georgian Interior Ministry alleged last July: that a Russian GRU officer, Major Yevgeny Borisov, was responsible for 12 bombings and attempting bombings in Georgia throughout 2011, including one at a NATO liaison office and one near the U.S. embassy, both in Tiblisi. Telephone intercepts have shown that Borisov and his subordinates are quite the chatter-bugs with the Russian Defence Ministry whenever something goes off in Georgia. One planned attack involved RDX, a military-grade explosive, which had been placed under a railway bridge in the village of Chaladidi in the western Khobi district of Georgia. It didn’t explode. But Borisov’s deputy made the mistake of phoning the EUMM offices to inquire about the blast and offer his assistance with any resulting casualties; days later, local residents discovered the device.

Syrians can tell you how familiar all of this sounds. And Obama is surely aware that the sower of such cynicism and chaos isn’t going to sincerely assume the mantle of peacemaker. The irony is that this unconscionable re-casting of Putin’s role in Syria is a testament to a pending election in the United States that might well toss an embattled incumbent from office.

The Wolf Of The Caucasus

Originally Posted Here

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