A delegation headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s special adviser on Syria, Fred Hof, will meet with Russian counterparts on June 8 to find common ground on a plan to remove President Bashar al-Asad from power, and maybe even the country. Russia’s stated willingness on Wednesday to talk with the U.S. came as a pleasant surprise to many. Moscow indicated that while it opposes foreign intervention in Syria, it no longer sees Asad’s position as tenable and is not invested in his stay. This comes as welcome news to those trying to end the violence, as Russia continues to strongly influence the country and is one of the last powers to still support the Syrian president.
On the ground, however, Russia adamantly opposes considering a forced transfer of power in Syria or new economic sanctions against the regime, stating that it would lead to military intervention. The U.S. has recently called for more sanctions to “help hasten the day the Asad regime relinquishes power.” Further complicating matters is Russia’s insistence on bringing more countries into negotiations to end the Syrian conflict, such as Iran and Turkey. Secretary Clinton expressed skepticism at the proposal to expand the talks.
Syrian President Bashar al-Asad (R) meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Photo: Reuters)
Russia’s refusal to consider any type of foreign intervention beyond a proposal to draw up a peace plan comes amidst the news this week that Syria expelled 17 diplomats under Asad’s orders. And while Asad on Tuesday finally accepted longtime international demands to increase humanitarian aid workers’ access to civilians in need, many remain skeptical that talks will find success. As the violence rages, some warn that Syria is on the verge of genocide.
Asad has also chosen a prime minister to form a new government following Syria’s parliamentary election last month. His pick of the “hardcore Baathist,” as the opposition put it, only illustrates the president’s refusal to reform. Furthermore, renewed offensives throughout Syria threaten to push the country further into chaos as more are killed. Many argue that UN envoy Kofi Annan’s Peace Plan has long since failed and that a new deal is needed. The UN estimates that the Syrian regime has killed over 10,000 since the uprising’s start 15 months ago.
In order for Russia to move away from Asad, Moscow must be convinced that the costs of protecting the Syrian regime outweigh the benefits. As Asad continues to ignore international calls to end the violence, those costs for Russia are increasing. With time, maybe Moscow will realize that as well.