The G8 summit managed to put together a joint declaration on Syria. But as Russia and the West continue to have different interests at stake, the declaration remains short of any discernable progress.
Russia and the other G8 partners are working towards a transitional government in order to stop the civil war in Syria. That's according to a the summit delegations on Tuesday at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. The future role of Syrian President Bashar Assad, however, was left out of the final joint declaration.
Aside from Iran, Russia is the closest ally Assad still has and Moscow continues to deliver weapons to Syria. The US, Britain and France have said that they have proof for the use of deadly poison gas in the regime's fight against the rebels and that is why the three states are now considering to arm the rebels. Russia has condemned those plans and points to the sovereignty of Damascus.
Russia stresses Syria's sovereignty
“Russia is quite legalistic and argues that Syria is a sovereign state and therefore delivering arms against an internationally recognized government without UN backing is illegal, according to international law,” explained Syria expert Heiko Wimmen. "You have to see that Russia ranks governmental sovereignty much higher than, for instance, humanitarian issues," he added.
For Moscow, it was also about sending a message to its partners. "They want to show that those allied with Russia have a reliable partner with Moscow."
Russia's ties to Iran should to be seen in the same context, he explained. Because Tehran is the only Assad ally in the region, Russia has to deal with the Iranian regime, explains Dimitri Trenin of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Moscow is being realistic with the Kremlin realizing that Tehran is well established in the region and will continue to play a role in future. With this in mind, it makes sense that Moscow is pushing for Iran to be part of the peace talks on Syria, he says.
Ambivalent relations with Iran
Moscow, however, does not fully trust Tehran, Trenin explained, but Russia was grateful that Iran kept out of the conflict in Chechnya and helped to end a bloody civil war in Tadzhikistan. "Russia has built a nuclear reactor in Iran and supplies weapons," Trenin says. Thanks to those stable ties, Russia so far managed to keep its southern border quiet.
There are many reasons why Russia keeps supporting the regime in Damascus. There is a Russian naval base in Tartus and Assad is a good customer of Russian arms are just two of them. There's also the concern about how the West acted in the Libya conflict in 2011, explained Wimmen. Back then, there was Russian agreement to establish a no-fly zone, but then the West pushed without coordinating with Moscow for a regime change in the country. Analysts believe that this is one of the considerations why Moscow is so unwilling to soften its position on Syria.
Weapons trade across the region
Thanks, in part, to support from Moscow, the Assad regime is still in power, despite the fact that the rebels for some time have been receiving weapons from abroad. According to US intelligence, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but also Jordan and Libya are delivering arms to the rebels. In part the weapons have been moved across the border with Turkey. Syrian rebel forces have confirmed these reports.
Unlike the US, France and Britain, Germany is pursuing a more cautious policy on Syria. Ahead of the G8 summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized again that Germany would not be delivering weapons to the Syrian rebels. German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, has pleaded for a political solution, adding that the risks are too high to arm the rebels.
“Unlike a military solution, a political solution is the only one that can bring long-term peace, democracy and stability in this oppressed country,” Westerwelle said.