Putin's Diplomatic Victory On Syria Will Do Little To Stop The War

Putin's Diplomatic Victory On Syria Will Do Little To Stop The War
Andrei Odinets


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.

Nobel turnaround

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.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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