Putin’s goal was to stand up to Obama, not stand up for Assad

With peace talks on Syria beginning, Al Bayan and Al Hayat assess what the parties have achieved.

Five years have passed since the beginning of the crisis in Syria and the international community is convening in Geneva in the fourth attempt to broker a solution to the raging chaos that has caused an outpouring of refugees to surrounding countries and into Europe.

The editorial board of the Dubai-based daily Al Bayan declared that the world is at a turning point, awaiting the outcome of the conference in Geneva to see if it finally puts an end to the Syrian crisis.

“The conference comes amid sharp differences over the fate of the Syrian president, the biggest point of dissension in terms of political settlement,” they wrote.

“While the Syrian opposition insists on the departure of Assad before the start of a political settlement, the official regime in Damascus continues to refuse the removal of Al Assad in the lead-up to the presidential elections.”

The problem of what should Bashar Al Assad do threatens to thwart any political settlement that could emerge from Geneva, they added.

“This is in light of the intransigence of the regime and the support it gets from regional and international capitals that care for its survival and ensure the benefit of their own interests over those of the Syrian people, who are left to pay the price for regional and international preferences,” they continued.

“The time has come for the regime in Damascus to show evidence of its intention to end the massacres in Syria and to give up on its intransigence. The Syrian people who are now refugees are living in the hope that the bloodbath will stop and the process of reconstruction will begin internally at all levels.

“Arab and Muslim countries have taken a stance favouring a political settlement of the crisis from day one. All those countries still see it is the only solution to end the misery of the Syrian people.”

Writing in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, Randa Taqieddine remarked that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s announcement that its troops would be withdrawing from Syria coincided with both the start of peace talks in Geneva between the Syrian regime and the opposition and also the eve of the fifth anniversary of the start of conflict in which Syrian president Bashar Al Assad had waged a brutal war on his own people.

“The timing of the announcement is no coincidence. Putin entered Syria to protect Bashar Al Assad, to protect Russia’s base in Tartus, it’s only one on the Mediterranean, and to increase Russian presence in a region that once was under the control of the USSR. He indeed got what he aimed to obtain,” she wrote.

“Putin understands that the future of Syria will not include the president he protected. From the onset, the Russians repeated that there were no permanent links between Mr Al Assad and them, but they had found no other until now and were not convinced with the opposition. Nonetheless, Putin may have some ideas on ways to get rid of Mr Al Assad.”

She noted that the war Mr Al Assad has waged against his own people over the past five years has killed more than 350,000 and destroyed Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and many other ancient cities. Five million Syrians are displaced while 300,000 Syrian children have been born as refugees, according to Unicef, while over 8 million children are in need of humanitarian aid.

“The Russian withdrawal may also aim to put pressure on Mr Al Assad, after Mr Putin grasped the catastrophic repercussions of the Syrian president’s leadership, intransigence and mistakes, that he is only able to fight with the support of external forces such as the Russians, Hizbollah and the Iranians.

“In the future, decision-making will not be in the hands of Iran, Hizbollah, Assad or Russia.

“The future of Syria cannot be with Mr Al Assad, even if Russia paid the price for his protection to make its comeback in the international equation. That was the most important goal for Putin in the face of the Obama administration, which withdrew from the area and surrendered before Russia,” she concluded.

* CMirza@thenational.ae