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The Man and His Moment of glory

 

By outwitting Americans at the diplomatic chess, fair and square, Putin has boosted his international profile, says Saurabh Kumar Shahi
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : Dyrian crisis | Vladimir Putin | US | Barack Obama | John Kerry | Bashar al-Assad |
 

Early this week, Secretary of State John Kerry did a press conference in London, which arguably will go down as probably the most gaffe-filled press conference ever, including those regularly done by President Bush and his glorified cowboys. While clearly unhappy from the results of G20 Summit in Moscow, where US suffered a diplomatic defeat, Kerry blamed almost everything on the besieged Assad regime in Damascus, stopping barely short of blaming him for the notorious London weather.

While describing how Obama administration is planning to attack Syria, Kerry said, “...in a very limited, in a very targeted short term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria's civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing. Unbelievable small limited kind of effort. Now that has been engaged in previously on many different occasions. President Reagan had a several hours or whatever effort to send a message to Ghadaffi in the wake I think of Pan Am 103 and other terrorist activities.”

What the international media failed to confront him for was the basic historical fact that Ronald Reagan did not hit Ghadaffi for what happened to Pan Am 103, but Ghadaffi ordered to hit Pan Am 103 because of Reagan’s decision to hit his interests. Naturally, his argument for the war actually became the argument against it. But there was something else too in his statement, which followed later.

“Al-Assad could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week,” Kerry further added. “But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done, obviously.”

For everyone else, it was merely a rhetorical question. But someone in Kremlin had something else in his mind. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin saw this as a perfect opportunity to outsmart US and save his ally in Damascus at the same time. Within moment of this gaffe, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov lapped it up and declared his own proposal.

“We are calling on the Syrian authorities not only agree on putting chemical weapons storages under international control, but also for its further destruction and then joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” Lavrov was reported as saying. “We have passed our offer to Al-Muallem [Syrian Foreign Minister] and hope to receive a fast and positive answer,” he concluded.

As this story goes for print, Syria welcomed the proposal and was ready to discuss its nuances. Something which became very clear was that within a fortnight, Obama was made to look holding the can by two of his top officials. If it was Susan Rice’s over-enthusiasm that put him in the Catch-22 situation on Syria and in collision course with almost entire world, it was a gaffe by John Kerry that robbed him of whatever little mileage he was looking to draw.

It was immediately followed by an interview with two European journalists who had recently been freed from the captivity of rebels in Syria. In the interview, Italian journalist Domenico Quirico and Belgian journalist Pierre Piccinin claimed that they had overheard the rebels discussing the involvement of other rebels in the chemical attack of August 21.

“It is a moral duty to say this. The government of Bashar al-Assad did not use Sarin gas or other types of gas in the outskirts of Damascus,” Piccinin was reported as saying during an interview with a European radio station. The international support for Obama diluted further.

Experts suggest that it will not be difficult for Syria to agree to the demands under the present circumstances. It is very clear that by “International control”, Russia probably means a team of Russian experts mandated by the UN or at least a group of experts from various UN member state with clear majority of Russians in it.

It will serve Assad regime in many ways. First, it will avoid the imminent strike by the US that might either undo the hard earned victory in the recent months by the Syrian Arab Army or tilt the balance in the favour of foreign-backed militants. Second, with international inspectors manning the sites, rebels will find it increasingly difficult to target the Chemical Weapons facilities, as the same international inspectors will automatically turn into human shields. Third, Syria will have no fear of destruction of such weapons as it takes over a decade if not more to come up with apparatuses to destroy them.

“The key point in all this, though, is that, for Damascus, chemical weapons are just a detail - they are worthless on the battlefield. What matters, is the 250,000-strong Syrian Arab Army (SAA), as well as military support by Iran and especially Russia - as in missiles of the Yakhont variety or S-300 (even 400) systems. Destroying the weapons - assuming Damascus agrees - is a very long-term proposition, measured in years; even Russia and the US have not destroyed theirs. By then, the myriad gangs of the Free Syrian Army may have been thoroughly defeated,” argues Foreign Policy expert and journalist Pepe Escobar.   

In all surety, the attack on Syria has now been indefinitely postponed if not averted altogether. This is clearly a big diplomatic win for President Putin in particular and Russia in general. No doubt, it will substantially improve his profile in the region and earn him political capital to spend judiciously at both home and abroad. 

saurabh.shahi@thesundayindian.com

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017