Russia sends confusing signals on Assad, Syrian rebels

Russia backtracked Friday on comments about Syria made by a key official only a day earlier.

On Thursday, Russia’s state-run RIA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying that an opposition victory over the Assad regime could not be “ruled out.” Friday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said that Russia’s Syria policy remains unchanged.

”There has not been any deviation from our principle line on Syrian affairs, and nor will there be in the future,” Lukashevich said. “Our only goal is to end the violence in Syria as quickly as possible, to start a dialogue between the Syrians, between the government and the opposition, and to work out a formula for advancing a political process in the future.”

Analysts have been left guessing at Moscow’s intentions. Was it simply a case of mixed signals between a diplomat and his head office? Or were Bogdanov’s comments a signal to the Syrian opposition that Russia is ready to shift its policy? Or could they have been a signal to the U.S. and Turkey that Russia is ready to take a more active role in achieving a diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis?

A grain of salt

Joseph Olmert, a Syria expert and adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina, says, Bogdanov’s comments — along with the Foreign Ministry’s subsequent clarification – were no accident. He says the Russians are likely very pleased with themselves today, because they have positioned itself back in “the diplomatic game” over Syria and Assad’s fate.

“Even clumsy Russian explanations that the statement was taken out of context should be taken with a grain of salt,” Olmert said.

“In a system of government like Russia’s, there is a ‘good and bad cop’ technique at play,” he continued. “What Bogdanov said indicates the Russians’ attempt to position themselves in line for talks about the future of Syria, post-Bashar.”

Olmert says that Moscow under Vladimir Putin is pragmatic and is clearly acknowledging the reality of the situation on the ground.

“The Russians never intended to fight for Bashar Al-Assad, and on occasions in the past they have actually distanced from him,” he said.

Olmert believes Russia’s policy all along has been to demonstrate, as it did with regard to Iran, that Moscow has a role to play and does not want to see any of what Olmert calls a “one-sided pax Americana” take place.

“I do not rule out a granting of safe passage to Bashar and his immediate family to Moscow,” Olmert said. “And surely, the Russians will seek to protect their military installations in Syria, particularly in Tartus.”

Moscow has only one naval presence in the Mediterranean — the naval supply base at Tartus, which Russia says has more symbolic than strategic value.

Too Little Too Late?

Whatever Russia does, how will the Syrian opposition feel about Moscow if Assad falls and it takes power?

Radwan Ziadeh, spokesperson for the Syrian National Council and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, D.C., believes that it will be very difficult for any future Syrian government to deal with the Russians.

“We have many opposition figures and activists inside Syria who believe that Russia should be held accountable for what happened to the Syrian people. The historical relationship between Russia and Syria will come to an end,” he said.

Ziadeh says he has visited Moscow for talks on two occasions and repeated this message many times.

“But it looks as if they don’t care,” he said. “Now that the opposition is very close to Damascus, it isn’t clear if their opinion is still the same or there has been a change in their position.”

Jeffrey Mankoff is deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York City. He says Russia has been trying to keep the lines of communication open with the Syrian opposition.

“But it’s been pretty clear that Russia is probably the most important and steadfast foreign supporter of Assad, apart from countries like Iran,” Mankoff said.

In fact, Mankoff believes that Russia has handled the entire “Arab Spring phenomenon” badly, also damaging relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

“So I think the Russians are now trying to make the best of what is clearly for them a bad situation,” he said.

At the end of the day, Mankoff does not rule out the possibility that Moscow will be able to strike a deal with a post-Assad government to protecting Russia’s vital interests in Syria.

But in terms of actually being able to influence and shape the post-Assad government, Mankoff thinks Russia has most certainly missed the boat.

VOA

  • wargame1

    Russia USA NATO ,Iran etc are on the same boat and their interest is to protect Israel. Assad is one of their defense line for Israel. If Assad cant hold any more than they have to install another regime such as the present Syrian puppet government in exile!! 

    Assad has a huge amount of asset and cash in Russia and they sold huge amount of weapon to assad , made good bucks already.So it wont be difficult to say good bye to Assad. Russia and China didnt wast any time to recognize the  NATO/Iranian puppet of Libya but initially they were showing support to Gaddafi. Russia and USA play good cop bad cop game but one should search the NATO Russian defense pact plus the Israel Russian defence agreement. It is Russia who has been supporting the NATO and USA in Afghanistan and in Iraq allowing USA and NATO to transport their logistics through Russia. US administration is owned by the Russian Jews and all of them has dual Israeli citizenship

    Some of the Russian Jews in American Government such as  Donald Kagan, Douglas Feith, Dov Zakheim, Richard Haas, Kenneth Adelman, Steve Goldsmith, Edward Luttwak, Robert Satloff, David Frum, Marc Grossman and David Wurmser,Paul Wolfowitz, Rahm Emanuel and many many many  more. All of them are the Jews from Khazaria from where their forefather evolved. Khazar Kingdom existed before the birth of modern day Russia.

    94% Israeli are Russian speakers. So that Russian base in Tartus Syria is to protect Israel. Now do the rest of the math…..Why Russia directly support the Syrian regime and Iran? Why USA/NATO install shia puppet in the invaded country? Is it because Assad and Iranian majoosis are anti Israeli or pro Israeli?

    Their concern is Israel since one of the three defense line of Israel is falling and next on the line of fire is Hezbushaitan and Iran. USA and Russia know very well the motive of the Syrian mujaheddin i.e. to take back Golan height and beyond.

  • wargame1

    Russia USA NATO ,Iran etc are on the same boat and their interest is to protect Israel. Assad is one of their defence line for Israel. If Assad cant hold any more than they have to install another regime such as the present Syrian puppet government in exile!! 

    Assad has a huge amount of asset and cash in Russia and they sold huge amount of weapon to assad , made good bucks already.So it wont be difficult to say good bye to Assad. Russia and China didnt wast any time to recognize the  NATO/Iranian puppet of Libya but initially they were showing support to Gaddafi. Russia and USA play good cop bad cop game but one should search the NATO Russian defense pact.It is Russia who has been supporting the NATO and USA in Afghanistan and in Iraq allowing USA and NATO to transport their logistics through Russia. US administration is owned by the Russian Jews and all of them has dual Israeli citizenship

    Some of the Russian Jews in American Government such as  Donald Kagan, Douglas Feith, Dov Zakheim, Richard Haas, Kenneth Adelman, Steve Goldsmith, Edward Luttwak, Robert Satloff, David Frum, Marc Grossman and David Wurmser,Paul Wolfowitz, Rahm Emanuel and many many many  more. All of them are the Jews from Khazaria. 

    Their concern is Israel since one of the three defense line of Israel is falling and next on the line of fire is Hezbushaitan and Iran. USA and Russia know very well the motive of the Syrian mujaheddin i.e. to take back Golan height and beyond. 

  • guss043

    Russia , this useless nation ,go 100 KM outside Moscow and you’ll be hit with stone age, no electricity , building with half heat, average life of the man is becoming lowest in the world 58-60 from drugs and alcohol. Curently Russia and Ukraine or former Russian territory are exporting  most prostitutes worlwide, in Holland a Russian prositute that contract AIDS by mistake is killed immediately as it endanger the mafai business.
    Name one brand of car ,microwave or fridge that is produced by this nation. Putin is a former KGB thug who gets commission on every project.Just look at former communist countries except Poland and see what communism did.Rusia itself need another huge rvolution bigger than the Bolchevik to burn all the corruption , but this will not happen , eventually Russia will turn by statistic to a Moslem nation 40-50 years from now, which will be a miserable situation too but less miserable than now maybe

  • guss043

    Russia , this useless nation ,go 100 KM outside Moscow and you’ll be hit with stone age, no electricity , building with half heat, average life of the man is becoming lowest in the world 58-60 from drugs and alcohol. Curently Russia and Ukraine or former Russian territory are exporting  most prostitutes worlwide, in Holland a Russian prositute that contract AIDS by mistake is killed immediately as it endanger the mafai business.
    Name one brand of car ,microwave or fridge that is produced by this nation. Putin is a former KGB thug who gets commission on every project.Just look at former communist countries except Poland and see what communism did.Rusia itself need another huge rvolution bigger than the Bolchevik to burn all the corruption , but this will not happen , eventually Russia will turn by statistic to a Moslem nation 40-50 years from now, which will be a miserable situation too but less miserable than now maybe

  • Fauzia45

    The Russians have played the game badly!!As the Chinese say,if you must play decide on three things,¨the rules,the stakes,and the quitting time!¨¨

  • Fauzia45

    The Russians have played the game badly!!As the Chinese say,if you must play decide on three things,¨the rules,the stakes,and the quitting time!¨¨