Stop coddling Assad


Stop coddling Assad
The Daily Star
Nov. 27, 2014

Foreign Minister Walid Moallem’s visit to Russia comes at a critical time in the war in Syria. Some of the public statements about Moallem’s visit – particularly those highlighted by the regime in Damascus – will inevitably focus on “efforts to fight terror.” But his trip also comes after Russian officials have been busy reaching out to Syrian political and military figures from the opposition.

Russia should stop holding the hand of President Bashar Assad and his inner circle and speak frankly, instead of issuing platitudes about fighting terror and complimenting Damascus’ efforts in this regard. Syrian planes bombed Raqqa Tuesday, killing dozens of people – it’s likely that half or more of the victims were civilians. Millions of people have left Syria in fear for their lives, amid the heavy-handed military and other measures that make up the regime’s “security solution” to a popular uprising. Syria’s economy is in ruins, and the country is in danger of being partitioned into frightening, chaotic mini-states.

If Russia wants to play a constructive role in this mess – which has been made possible by unlimited Russian and Iranian support for Assad – it should stop taking baby steps toward a negotiated solution, and act. The period leading up to Moallem’s visit hasn’t been encouraging, especially after the Syrian authorities arrested a leading figure from the tolerated “internal opposition,” just for speaking his mind about how dire things are.

Russia wants the world to know that it enjoys significant clout in Syria, and it’s time for a show of this strength – in the direction of an end to the war, and not more coddling of its ally.