Friday, December 11, 2015

Russia-Turkey Syria standoff is just symptom of wider crisis

By Azmi Bishara


Comment: All approaches to military intervention in Syria have failed to tackle either the regime or IS - a political solution that addresses Syrians' grievances is needed, argues Azmi Bishara.
Russia is no longer content with its role as a major regional power. Now, it wants to restore its erstwhile role as a global superpower, yet without having the economic wherewithal to do so, let alone an effective international programme.

This Russian quest is clashing with democratisation efforts and is attempting to abort what threatens or promises to become a new democratic wave.

In Russia's revanchist thinking, fuelled by the nostalgia of Vladimir Putin's regime for the glories of pre-communist 19th century Russia, democracy is synonymous to Western imperialism.

None of this has anything to do with terrorism.
Russia adopted a negative attitude to the revolution in Egypt, when the whole world was astonished by its civility

Indeed, Russia had utilised the same logic with the Arab revolutions.

Russia, which had restored some of its balance and influence from Ukraine and Georgia to Central Asia, has questioned the forces behind the new "colour revolutions", as Russia once labelled the uprisings in the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Accordingly, Russia adopted a negative attitude to the January Revolution in Egypt, at a time when the whole world was enthusiastic and astonished by its peacefulness and civility.
Read more: Turkey PM accuses Russia of 'ethnic cleansing' in Syria

At the time, the question of terrorism was not on the cards.

In truth, Russia was always obsessed with Islamism, duly and unduly so, not least because of its vision for the alliance with Muslim nations to the south of its borders, in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Fast forward to the conflict in Syria. There was an opportunity for Russia to intervene, as a result of the vacuum left behind by the failed US-led invasion of Iraq.
Moscow's decision-makers thus became resolved to restore Russia's superpower status through the gateway of Syria.

The terrorism 'fig leaf'

But this time, there was a real question of terrorism.

The Syrian revolution had morphed into a civil war, thanks to the Syrian regime's mantra of "No to reform; accept me as I am, or I shall burn down the country."

And indeed, the regime burned down the country, displaced its people and engaged in genocide.

Under the cover of bloody oppression, groups that had nothing to do with the revolution in Syria and its principles infiltrated the country. These groups became a key component of the cycle of violence, rivalling the regime when it came to barbarism and cruelty against opponents.
Russia intervened at a time when the Islamic State group became a real concern, or even an obsession in the West

Russia hence intervened at a time when the Islamic State group became a real concern, or even an obsession in the West.

Sixty-six countries and counting have joined a nominal coalition against the Islamic State group.

Nominal, because many countries desire to be part of this coalition, even if symbolically, to be part of the American club otherwise known as "international consensus".

However, this coalition has not been fighting IS. Rather, only a small band of countries are bombing what they think are Islamic State group positions from the air.

This is despite the fact that air raids, as all entities familiar with such issues have continuously stressed, cannot achieve victory in a battle, and cause immense damage - not the least of which is the spawning of more terrorists.

The only forces that defeated the group in some instances were armed Syrian groups, as they briefly united to fight Islamic State group in some areas, when the group posed an existential threat to them.
Read more on the Russia-Turkey crisis over Syria
NATO calls extraordinary meeting after Turkey downs Russian jet
Russia jet in Turkish airspace 'was not the first'
What was Russia's airforce doing near Turkey's borders anyway?
Who are the Turkmen?
Comment: Showdown on the Syrian border

Crisis of intervention

It is clear today that terrorism cannot be defeated unless its popular incubator is neutralised, and local communities turn against it.

But local communities will not do it for the sake of sectarian militias in Iraq, nor a bloody tyrannical regime in Syria.

Rather, these communities would only rise up against terrorism as part of a process that would restore their rights. This is what the coalition nations do not seem to understand.

The international powers - not prepared even to protect Syrian civilians - are so self-deluded now, that they have stopped caring about the crimes of the regime, and are considering whether the regime could be useful in fighting "terrorism".

It is against this backdrop that Russia has intervened. This is why Russia feels drunk with power, but also why it was extremely shocked when one of its warplanes was downed.

That incident was sobering, and caused Russian intervention to fall into crisis.

However, Turkey's approach to the Syrian conflict has also reached crisis mode, with its bet on a safe zone that does not solve the problem to begin with, and which has become complicated because of Russian intervention.

Nothing was more telling of Turkey's crisis than its pretext behind downing the Russian jet. Turkey - oddly - said it was protecting the Turkmen, when until recently, the Turkish government was more willing to speak about protecting the Syrian people as a whole.

The need for a political solution

Everyone is therefore in crisis. Everyone needs a political solution in Syria that would save the country and encourage refugees to return.

Those who do not understand this from the perspective of justice for the Syrian people, must understand it from the perspective of having a real solution to the question of terrorism.
The regime and Syrian rebels must be compelled to commmit a national unity government formed on principles of the revolution

A solution, however, is only possible if there is a clear plan for transition.

The regime and all Syrian rebel groups must be compelled to commmit to this, through a national unity government formed on the basis of principles for which Syrians came out in peaceful protests in 2011.

That is, before Syrians were mowed down by the regime or dispersed by imprisonment and exile.

Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian intellectual, academic and writer.

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