Russia pilots turn in Syrian tide

Although the Syrian situation remains volatile, it appears that the Russian diplomatic strategy is beginning to show results.

Russian diplomacy on the Syrian crisis appears to be gaining traction steadily. The Foreign Ministry statement in Moscow earlier today gave encouraging estimation of the ground situation in Syria.

What matters most is that the UN joint envoy Kofi Annan himself has just evaluated that the six-point peace plan is on track. Annan’s spokesman disclosed that ‘under-the-radar’ negotiations have been going on with the Syrian protagonists and “there are small signs of compliance.”

Equally, the head of the UN observer team in Syria has evaluated that he saw a “good chance and an opportunity” to break the cycle of violence. Of course, detractors are galore, too, but then, there is a ‘psywar’ and a geopolitical struggle going on over Syria.

The United States, in particular, is under political and diplomatic compulsion to keep up the flow of hot words and pressure tactic vis-à-vis the Syrian regime. It stands to reason that Washington and Moscow are in close consultation at the diplomatic level. Meanwhile, thoughtful voices in the US are asserting that the US should work closely with Russia on the Syrian crisis. 

What gives cautious optimism is also that Turkey has been ‘retreating’. Notably, FM Ahmet Davitoglu has retracted from his rhetoric . He probably sensed that he crossed a red line and there has been adverse reaction in the Arab world, which is historically very sensitive about the Ottoman legacy. Besides, within Turkey itself, the government’s Syria policy has come under heavy fire. A Turkish intervention in Syria can be safely ruled out in the absence of a national consensus within Turkey. 

Any regular reader of Saudi press would also vouchsafe that there is a lowering of the rhetoric on Syria, which used to be shrill. Riyadh has turned attention to other issues, especially the diplomatic crisis with Egypt, which comes as a big embarrassment to Saudi standing in the region. Asharq Al-Alawsat, in particular, has ceased to carry scurrilous pieces -- often in very bad taste -- on the Syrian leadership, which used to be a daily feature for months altogether. The deep soul-searching by Turkey – and it has the requisite intellectual resources to apply -- will further dampen the Saudi enthusiasm for ‘regime change’ in Syria.

On the whole, although the Syrian situation remains volatile, it appears that the Russian diplomatic strategy is beginning to show results. Indeed, the circumstances also could be favoring. Thus, Nikolas Sarkozy’s likely defeat on Sunday would put another nail on the coffin of the ‘Friends of Syria’. And, of course, Barack Obama is rolling up his sleeves this weekend for a tough re-election bid through the coming 6-month period, which would leave him little time to ponder over Syria’s future.   

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