27 January 2016

Has the West betrayed the Syrian People

Marwan Bishara
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

Listening to Staffan de Mistura during Tuesday's press conference, I could only shake my head in amazement. The charming UN mediator has tried to fudge and blur the true nature of the diplomatic process he's fronting, but he left little doubt in my mind as to who's dictating the preconditions for a Geneva-3.

The Swedish Italian diplomat insisted that there would be no Syrian precondition to the kicking off of what he called "proximity talks" between the regime and various delegations, but he neglected to mention that the entire diplomatic process has been hostage to Russian-Iranian preconditions.

The shift in the West's approach to Syria started on September 30, 2015, with the Russian military intervention on the side of the weakened Syrian regime. The Obama administration's timid reaction to the Russian aerial bombings of the Syrian opposition groups, many of whom it presumably supported, only emboldened and expanded Moscow's role in the ruined nation.

Consequences of Russia's interference

Although he warned of the dangerous consequences of Russia's interference, US President Barack Obama has in reality built on the Russian military involvement.

The US-Russian-led international Syria meetings in Vienna on October 30 and November 14 revealed Washington's true intentions. The latter meeting came against the backdrop of the Paris attacks, and for all practical purpose, focused the West's attention on fighting ISIL, instead of ridding Syria of Assad.

After the meeting adopted a far-reaching road map that ends in 2017, US Secretary of State John Kerry invited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to New York on December 18. At the UN, the US embraced the Russian draft for a new UN Security Council resolution on Syria, despite opposition from Washington's Middle East allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.UNSC resolution 2254 gave the diplomatic process a new momentum, but it also stripped the Syria opposition of much of its gains. It also mandated De Mistura to designate the opposition representatives to be officially invited to the talks.

Previous agreement about a transitional Syrian government with executive powers that sidelines Assad, has apparently been replaced with a Russian plan of unity government with Assad on top, leading to elections in which Assad can run.

Ultimately, as Russia's foreign minister boasted, Moscow's military intervention has turned the tables in its favour in Russia, and its ally the Syrian dictator while, in the words of US Secretary of State John Kerry, US interference in Syria is focused on fighting terrorism only.