This week’s meeting that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had with Putin and Lavrov in Sochi was scarcely reported on in the West, but this doesn’t mean that it was insignificant. In fact, it was neglected precisely because of its significance, since it shows that Russia is the main international actor helping to bring peace to the country and victory to the anti-terrorist forces. All of this jars with the mainstream narrative that the US is the solution to the Mideast’s woes, instead showing that it’s actually the problem in the first place.
Call ‘Em How You See ‘Em
Russia is certain that the US is the Mideast’s main headache and has lately come out with some hard-swinging statements against it. Lavrov previously decried the use of the false “good terrorist, bad terrorist” myth, which first came about over 30 years ago when the US created the Mujahedeen, saying that political interests shouldn’t supercede anti-terrorist considerations. Seeing that the US obviously wasn’t listening after it started bombing Syria, he raised his tone this week to saying that Russia is against “attempts to use extremist and even openly terrorist groups for the purposes of a regime change in Syria”, in clear reference to the US’ policy of arming supposedly ‘moderate’ Islamic militant groups. Putin said afterwards in an interview that “the main risk…stems from the activities of the so-called Islamic State and other radical groups that were once actively employed by some Western countries, which flirted with them and encouraged them”, so it’s no perhaps wonder that he earlier voiced the impression that “whatever Americans touch they always end up with Libya or Iraq.”
The Sochi Solutions
The US’ destructive policy in Syria starkly contrasts with the constructive one that Russia is pursuing, showing how the Sochi talks were a promising step towards halting Syria’s bloodshed and further defeating the terrorists.
The first notable result was that Russia and Syria came out in official support for the local ceasefire initiative earlier proposed by UN special envoy Staffan D. Mistura. Aleppo is anticipated to be the first testing ground of this policy, and if the US and its regional allies can convince their Syrian proxies to abide by it, then it could potentially be rolled out in other battleground cities. This would free up both forces to more freely fight against ISIL and begin the ground offensive that some in the West have been calling for, but instead composed of actual Syrians and not foreign militaries with ulterior and meddling motives.
Cutting the Purse Strings:
ISIL receives millions of dollars a day in critical financing by selling oil on the black market, so Russia has once more repeated its proposal for the international community to ban the purchase of terrorist-controlled natural resources. The idea was first suggested by Russia in July, but Lavrov commented this week that the “UN Secretariat is not too active in establishing facts” on the matter and urged them to pick up the pace. This importantly shows that unlike the US’ bombing of Syria’s terrorist-occupied oil infrastructure, Russia’s plan is to go after the buyers of those products instead, which would leave the valuable structures intact to assist with necessary post-war reconstruction.
Restarting the Reconciliation Process:
Perhaps the most impactful proposal, but also the least likely to succeed in the short term, was the speculative idea to restart talks between Damascus and the non-terrorist anti-government opposition. No solid details were given, but there has been talk that any future reconciliation discussions could possibly occur in Moscow. One of the former Syrian opposition leaders, Moaz Al-Khatib, visited the Russian capital earlier this month to supposedly discuss such a proposal, but it is unsure how much support this has among the anti-government movement’s current leaders.
Although Lavrov said that “If you think that a conference will be announced similar to the one that was held in…January this year with the participation of 50-odd states, thousands of journalists, bright lights, there won’t be such a conference”, he did underline that a political solution was the only possible way out of the crisis. Thus, Russia doesn’t discount the idea of a new type of conference being held in a different, more subdued format and being presided over in Moscow sometime in the future, although nothing tangible was publicly confirmed.
What Russia’s basically doing is the polar opposite of the US, and unsurprisingly, it’s been far more successful in accomplishing its anti-terror goals. Let’s look at their differences back-to-back for maximum effect:
Russia: Recognizes the democratically elected government and is against its violent overthrow.
US: Does not recognize the democratic will of the people, supports violent regime change.
Accusations versus Support:
Russia: Provides diplomatic support to the government in its almost four-year war against terrorism.
US: Falsely accuses the government of having been complicit in the rise of terrorism there.
Russia: Says that all countries should be invited to tackle terrorism without political discrimination.
US: Excluded Syria from the Paris ISIL meeting and subsequent coalition.
Russia: Only sells arms to the legitimate authorities, which in turn use them to kill terrorists.
US: Supplies the ‘moderate’ Islamic opposition, is ‘shocked’ when weapons end up in ISIL’s hands.
Russia: Emphasizes international law and says that Damascus’ permission and coordination are a must.
US: Unilaterally bombs Syrian territory without cooperating with its legitimate authorities.
Thus, Russia is undoubtedly serious about fighting terrorism in Syria, but the US doesn’t seem to have its priorities straight, being more focused on regime change at all costs than on fighting terror with the same insistency. American policy created ISIL, while Russian policy has consistently been against it and similar groups for almost four years already. When the diplomats of the future look back at the Syrian War, it’s not hard to see which country they’ll view as being on the right side of history.