Geopolitics

Syria Sparks 'Cold War Stalemate' Between Russia And The West

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would veto any UN Security Council resolution targeting Syrian President Assad’s regime, especially any military strikes. It is the latest sign of deep-seated Russian tensions with the West over Syria. An

British Foreign Minister Hague (left) and his Russian counterpart Lavrov last year (UK Foreign Office)
British Foreign Minister Hague (left) and his Russian counterpart Lavrov last year (UK Foreign Office)
Alexandra Geneste

UNITED NATIONS – After the Libyan teamwork, here comes the Syrian stalemate. The reason: Russia's yearlong opposition to any sanctions against its Syrian ally. A stance supported by China, India and South Africa.

Despite the 5,400 dead reported by the United Nations, the Security Council remains silent, held hostage by internal divisions. European diplomats are fed up after leading numerous failed attempts to save the credibility of the Security Council on the issue, including a draft resolution condemning the Syrian regime and threatening targeted measures that was rejected in October by vetoes from Russia and China.

"We're in a deadlock," admits one Western diplomat, angry at what he characterized as "Russia's unwavering refusal to consider any type of action." Another one of his colleagues calls it a "Cold War-era stalemate."

On December 15, Russia presented a draft resolution on Syria. Though Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the UN called it "uneven," it gave a glimpse of hope that Russia was open to beginning a dialogue.

A month later, the draft has been modified. Its third version, presented to the Security Council this week, is just "a compilation of amendments added by the different member states," says an official.

Russia's stance hasn't changed. They are determined to equally condemn violence from official forces and the opposition. "That's a red line Europeans aren't ready to cross. The Council's credibility is at stake," says another UN official.

The Putin factor

After two days of tense negotiations over the 10-page document, experts from the 15 member states left on Wednesday without an agreement. Russian officials made it clear the next step would come from Moscow.

That same morning, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that his country was against any outside sanction or intervention in Syria, and that it was ready to use its veto power again.

Experts believe Russia's position is being driven by its upcoming presidential election and Vladimir Putin's expected return to the presidency.

"Russia's strong rhetoric is directly inspired by Vladimir Putin's style during his presidency," says Andrew Kuchins, the Russia and Eurasia program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Russians really feel they were cheated over Libya. For them, NATO went beyond its mandate and that set off their obsessive fear of a unipolar world lead by the US."

Thus, there is no mention of sanctions or even the "threat" of sanctions in the latest Russian version of the draft. European amendments were dismissed. There is no mention of the International Criminal Court either. The resolution even states explicitly: "nothing in this resolution should be interpreted as an authorization for any type of military intervention by any one."

"Their strategy is to throw a lifejacket to Damascus. The Russians want to make sure the Syrian ship won't sink completely," says Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution. Russia has a strategic stake in maintaining stability in Syria, its No. 1 ally in the Middle East, with whom it has negotiated deals on investments, arms sales and naval installations in the port of Tartus." "Russians are truly nervous about the possibility of the fall of the Syrian regime," Hills says. "It is a regime on which they have bet so much."

Read more from Le Monde in French

photo - UK Foreign Office

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


💡  SPOTLIGHT

Bulgaria is COVID fail of the week: Our roving reporter is tired of asking "why"

With much attention now focused on rising COVID-19 cases in the UK and Moscow's new lockdown, a hidden story is in Bulgaria, which claims both Europe's highest death rate and lowest vaccination rate. By now, this reporter knows the drill

I suspected, while Google translating the Bulgarian news Wednesday morning, that I might be the last person in Sofia with an internet connection to have found out about the new COVID rules.

Following reports of 4,979 new COVID-19 cases and 214 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, the Bulgarian government had announced that proof of vaccine or negative PCR tests will be required for access to restaurants, theaters, cinemas, gyms, clubs and shopping malls. Starting tomorrow.

I'd heard some chatter at the co-working place the night before, but after 18 months of coronavirus reporting, and pandemic living, both in my native Sweden and my former home in Paris, I wasn't up for another round on the topic.

Perhaps, that same plague fatigue was what caused me — when deciding to set up shop in Bulgaria a month ago — to miss the detail that this is both Europe's least vaccinated country and the one with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate.

I had chosen Sofia (Europe's oldest city!) on the latest stop of my now 12-year hunt for a place to sort of settle down for its cheap rent, cobblestoned city center … and its excellent nationwide WiFi. What more could you ask?

Well, vaccinations, it turned out. So here I was facing the COVID story again, after months exploring France's extra strict lockdown measures, Sweden's famous flirt with herd immunity, the mask morality police and anti-vaxx ideologues everywhere.

The world's pandemic press this week is focused on the UK, where again cases are skyrocketing, and Moscow's new lockdown. But here in a country of barely 7 million, where I didn't speak the language or know the history, what might I find? After just six weeks, I considered the social dispositions I had discerned, what political leanings I'd nosed out that might explain why 80% of the population still isn't vaccinated.

I had, for example, observed with great interest that Sofians never jaywalk. Maybe that was the angle? The striking incongruence between social conformity and vaccine refusal? Or maybe the upcoming parliamentary elections held a clue to the bad COVID management.

To answer these questions, I went where any hungry reporter would go: the burger joint on the corner.

- "So new restrictions huh? You think they might lockdown?"

- "Dunno. The usual? No chili?"

- "Right, no chili … So you think more people will get vaccinated now?"

- "We'll see. That'll be four leva."

Having spent the past 18 months among the army of finger-wagging, number-crunching armchair social scientists (both in and out of print) I had suddenly lost my hunger to "explain" why Bulgarians were the world's bad boy of the moment on the COVID front. Consider this just one roving reporter's version of pandemic fatigue.


Carl-Johan Karlsson

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.

💬  LEXICON

魷魚的勝利

Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

A child stands in front of burning tires during a protest in Beirut against a new rise in fuel prices as Lebanon faces a crippling energy and economic crisis. — Photo: Marwan Naamani/dpa/ZUMA


✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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