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Clever move Moscow

Alexander Warkentin / bkSeptember 13, 2013

The Russian initiative has opened a window for diplomacy in the Syria conflict. The Kremlin has made itself a player again - but is yet to actually offer a new policy on Assad.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2006 file photo Vladimir Putin, then Russian President, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad smile as they shake hands in Moscow's Kremlin. With even his most powerful ally, Russia, losing faith in him, President Bashar Assad may appear to be heading for a last stand against rebel forces who have been waging a ferocious battle to overthrow him for nearly two years. But Assad still has thousands of elite and loyal troops behind him, and analysts say that even if he wanted to give up the fight, it's unclear those around him would let him abandon ship and leave them to an uncertain fate.(AP photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press service, File)
Image: dapd

"A tactical success for Russian diplomacy," is what Margarete Klein called the Russian drive to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control. The Russia analyst at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) told DW that the move allowed Moscow to at least temporarily avert its worst-case scenario. A US military strike against Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus would have weakened one of Russia's most important partners in the Middle East.

Alexander Golz, independent Moscow-based journalist and military expert, also sees it as a clever maneuver from the Kremlin. He said the proposal to put Assad's chemical weapons under international control did not originally come Russian President Vladimir Putin or from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but from US Senator Richard Lugar - over a year ago. "But Lavrov and Putin remembered it at the right time and the right place," Golz told DW.

Margarete Klein of the SWPin Berlin Photo: Margarete Klein
Klein calls Moscow's move a 'tactical success'Image: M. Klein

Moscow TV: French want Nobel Prize for Putin

There has been a lot of praise for Putin in the Russian media. The headline "French call for Nobel Prize for Putin for peace in Syria" appeared on the website of national Russian TV channel NTV. A link beneath it led to the channel's main news show "Segodnja" ("Today"), where presenter Pavel Matvejev said, "It is clear that Russia has hit the bull's-eye with its initiative for the control of chemical weapons. In principle, even NATO is supporting the initiative."

The article continues, "The Russian president has become the hero of the moment. Putin posters are being put up in the streets of Rome, with the slogan, 'I'm with Putin.' In Egypt people express their love for Putin with the phrase: 'Goodbye America.' And in France they are even suggesting that Putin be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, on the grounds that if he actually does prevent a military strike, then he has certainly done more for peace that Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama." The NTV article doesn't, however, make clear who these French people are, or when and where they made this proposal, nor does it mention which Italians and Egyptians expressed their support for the Russian plan.

Putin preaches to Washington

Putin himself is using the opportunity to preach to the United States. In an op-ed in the New York Times, the Russian president wrote, "It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America's long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan 'you're either with us or against us.' "

Russian journalist Alexander Golz Photo: DW
Golz says Russia's attitude to Russia has not changed one iotaImage: DW

But does Moscow's initiative really open the way to peace? Experts are skeptical. "The Syrian government will try to use this proposal to play for time," Klein said. Even though there is now a window of opportunity for a new round of negotiations between the conflicting parties in Syria, who, she asked, should sit at the table? Assad will not recognize the Syrian opposition, but Russia's initiative on chemical weapons requires the international community to cooperate both with the Assad regime and the opposition, otherwise the security of the international inspectors in Syria cannot be guaranteed.

No new Syria policy

Golz said he is certain that without the threat of a military strike, neither Moscow nor Damascus would have moved its position a millimeter. "A few days ago, it seemed that Moscow had hit the curb of world politics - it culminated in Obama's refusal to meet with Putin. The West was tired of listening to Russia's constant lament," he said. But now, he said, Russia has put itself back in the game.

Golz said he does not think the Kremlin's attitude to Assad has changed at all.

"The foundation of Russian foreign policy is the concept that domestic conflicts should be solved without intervention from abroad. That means that every authoritarian ruler can do whatever he wants to his own people."