'G7 plus one'? Isolated Russia holds line on Syria.
The G8 summit ended today with Russia far from agreement with the
West over how to resolve the Syrian civil war. Russian experts say the
rift is probably permanent.
Barack Obama (l.) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in
Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, on Monday. Though both Moscow and
Washington still officially support the idea of a joint US-Russia peace
conference on Syria, the likelihood of agreement between the two on how
to move forward on Syria appears to be dwindling. Evan Vucci/AP
's fundamental differences
with the West over how to seek peace in war-torn Syria
has left Moscow
isolated and this year's summit of the Group of Eight
industrial democracies in some disarray – creating a situation that
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper bluntly described as "G7
And though a sour-faced President Vladimir Putin
soldiered his way through the two-day meeting at a golf resort in Northern Ireland – he avoided the G8 altogether last year
– some Russian experts say that Moscow may not care much if its
stubbornness over the shape of a Syrian peace settlement isolates it, or
even compromises the G8 membership that former Russian President Boris
Yeltsin worked so hard to attain in 1997.
"We're a new member of
this club and we have our own views, which we will express," says Andrei
Klimov, deputy chair of the State Duma's international affairs
"Just because the other seven have a different view doesn't mean we
should change ours. It's not the last word. For example, when the G20
meets, Russia is not alone. There are lots of other countries that share
our views, even if they're not in the G8," he says.
Moscow and Washington still officially support the idea of a joint
US-Russia peace conference, in which each would shepherd their proxies to the negotiating table in Geneva
before August to hammer out a settlement, it was the mutual admission of key differences that seemed to speak loudest at a press conference following a face-to-face meeting
between President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama on Monday.
opinions do not coincide, but all of us have the intention to stop the
violence in Syria, to stop the growth of victims, and to solve the
situation peacefully, including by bringing the parties to the
negotiations table in Geneva," said Mr. Putin. "We agreed to push the
parties to the negotiations table."
Mr. Obama's take: "With
respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem, but
we share an interest in reducing the violence; securing chemical weapons
and ensuring that they're neither used nor are they subject to
proliferation; and that we want to try to resolve the issue through
political means, if possible."
The key disagreement that neither leader spelled out concerns the fate of Syria's embattled leader, Bashar al-Assad
The US, its Arab allies, and the Syrian rebels want guarantees that Mr.
Assad will be removed as a precondition for any talks on the way
forward in Syria. The Russians, who have blocked every attempt
over the past two years to sanction Syria or bring international
pressure to bear on Assad, insist that peace must be negotiated between
the actual warring parties.
In an interview with a Kuwaiti news agency
Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that Moscow
has done its part in persuading the Assad regime to come to the table.
He insisted that Putin and US Secretary of State John Kerry had agreed
at a May 7 Kremlin meeting
that there would be no preconditions – such as Assad's removal – set before the peace conference begins.
worked hard with the [Syrian government], and convinced them to
participate in the peace conference and name a negotiating team, which
will be led by Deputy Prime Minister Walid Muallem," Mr. Lavrov said.
main task before us is to seat representatives of the government and
opponents of the regime at a negotiating table with the prospect of
reaching agreement to start a political process based on broad national
dialogue," he added.
Lavrov complained that the West, particularly
the US, have not done their part in compelling the fractious Syrian
rebels to come, without preconditions, to Geneva. He admitted that it's
"a much more difficult" problem.
Many Russian Middle East
experts say it's more like a hopeless problem.
Geneva-2 peace conference is a pipe dream," says Vladimir Sazhin, an
analyst at the official Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow.
Syrian opposition is totally divided. There is no front line, the
battle goes on within each village, and every head of an armed group
thinks of himself as a national leader.... Assad's regime has at least
what's left of a central state and a regular army, so why should anybody
think he would just agree to go away?" Mr. Sazhin says.
are so many different forces inside Syria, and so many interested
outside parties. They're all of different size, and have differing
goals. It will be real progress indeed if anyone can make them sit down
together," he adds.
disagreements have flared in recent days, including Russia's insistence
that Western claims that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons
Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Lukashevich told
journalists that the idea of imposing a Libya-style no-fly zone over
Syria is strictly illegal. "I think [Russia] fundamentally will not
allow this scenario," he told journalists.
Russia, and the USSR
before it, maintained a strong client-state relationship with Syria
under the two-generational Assad regime, and many critics have argued
that Moscow's staunch defense of Assad is rooted in fear of losing the estimated $5 billion in arms contracts
that are in the pipeline with Damascus, the use of a naval supply station at Tartus
– Russia's only military base outside the former Soviet Union – and the
political influence that flows from having a close partner in the Arab
But the Russians insist that it's not about material issues, nor are they wedded to Assad
They argue that it's the West that doesn't know what it's doing in
trying to impose a simplistic "dictatorship versus democracy" template
upon Syria's complicated increasingly tribal and sectarian civil war,
and that previous Western efforts to intervene – as in Libya – have only
succeeded in sowing chaos and fomenting jihadi blowback
across the region.
G8 summit ended Tuesday with a final communique that papered over the
main differences between Russia and the organization's other members by
avoiding any mention of Assad's fate. But some Russian experts say the
rift is probably permanent, regardless of what happens in Syria, because
the Russia of Vladimir Putin is rapidly drawing away from the West and
adopting views and behaviors that are basically incompatible with G8
"This G8 summit will probably go down in history as
the meeting that revived the old formula of 'G7 plus one,' just as the
Canadian prime minister remarked," says Sergei Strokan, a foreign
affairs columnist with the Moscow daily Kommersant.
joined the G7 in 1997, it was admitted on the basis of its democratic
aspirations and not because it was an economic equal, says Mr. Strokan.
The recipe of 'G7 plus one' referred to Russia only being admitted to
the political deliberations of the group. Since Putin came to power,
Russia has experienced a dramatic economic revival and, for several
years now, people have referred to the organization simply as the G8.
the expression 7+1 is creeping back, not because of any Russian
economic weakness, but because Western leaders no longer have any
illusions about Russia being a democracy. The Syria issue is just a
litmus test that reveals to all that Russia and the West have
fundamentally differing views of the world," he adds
Labels: Communications, Conflict, Controversy, G-8, Russia, Syria, United States