MOSCOW — So Russian diplomats finally prevailed on the Syria question.
Since the beginning of the clashes in 2011 between the Syrian army, which is loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, and the armed opposition, Russia has used all of its power to prevent an international intervention, including blocking a UN Security Council resolution condemning the actions of the Syrian regime.
But after the attack near Damascus at the end of August in which Washington accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons against civilians, it looked like the Syrian crisis was going to proceed without Moscow’s participation. U.S. President Barack Obama announced his readiness to punish the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, and turned to Congress to request permission to carry out war operations.
But during the recent G20 summit in St. Petersburg, President Vladimir Putin and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov suggested an alternative — a plan to establish international control over Syria’s chemical weapons. According to Kommersant sources, there are four central steps to this plan. The first step: Syria will join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Secondly, Syria will declare all of the locations where it either stores or produces chemical weapons. Third, it will allow OPCW inspectors into all of those locations, and lastly, it will determine, with the input of the OPCW inspectors, how to destroy the chemical weapons stockpiles.
As a result, Obama has announced that he will postpone any direct attacks on Syria by at least a month and a half and that he is willing to work with Russia. John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov went to Geneva to work out the details of the plan. On September 12th, Putin took the unprecedented step of writing an op-ed in the The New York Times, outlining Moscow’s position on Syria for the American public. Putin expressed that for Russia, the most important principle is still national sovereignty and collective actions through the United Nations. He also said that an attack on Syria could destabilize the entire region.
The world’s reaction to the Russian initiative has been varied, but most analysts agree that Moscow’s maneuver has been a personal win for Putin and has damaged Obama’s image. The Nobel Prize winner was forced to give up (at least for now) military action as the result of a plan to avoid war hatched by a president considered anything but a symbol of democracy and peace in the West. Sergei Komkov, the head of the All-Russia Education Fund, has already sent the Nobel committee a letter suggesting Putin be considered for the peace prize.
Still, even though U.S. military action has been delayed, complete success for Russia’s plan to destroy the chemical weapons in Syria is no guarantee of peace. The events of the last several months have shown that the war in Syria entered a new phase in 2013.
In 2011, war erupted on the waves of the Arab Spring and mostly pitted a secular, democratic opposition against the supports of the Baath party and al-Assad's regime. Until the end of 2011, the main opposition came from Sunnis who were part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), primarily made up of defectors fighting for a secular and democratic Syria. Throughout 2012 there was increasing radicalization and Islamification among the opposition groups, with increased arms shipments coming to them from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In 2013, a full-fledged, every-man-for-himself civil war emerged.
There is no overstating the complexity of Syria's ethnic and religious map, as each group claims its own alliances and sources of weapons. Recent events have shown that the animosity among ethnic and religious groups virtually guarantees that Syria’s civil war will continue, with or without a peaceful plan to destroy chemical weapons.