Syrian chemical weapons deal a victory for Russia?

2013-09-18 09:15

The Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons is seen by some political analysts as a victory for Russia, and at the same time, a crashing defeat for American diplomacy. After all, President Vladimir Putin almost bullied his way to the negotiating table, and, once there, established Russia not only as an international deal breaker, but a recovering superpower.

Russia went a step further by standing its ground against the United States (US), Britain and France in that it would not allow a forceful response (in terms of a resolution under Chapter 7 of the United Nations [UN] Charter) to Syrian non-compliance with the Framework without further authorisation from the UN Security Council.

It thus seems as if Russia has come to the fore rather dramatically since President Barack Obama suggested that military action should be taken against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to send a clear international message that the use of chemical weapons will not, and should not be tolerated. As its last remaining ally in the Middle East, Syria is of strategic importance to Russia. In terms of arms sales, it is an important source of revenue for Russia, and its Mediterranean coast provides Russia with naval access to a port in Tartus. But more importantly, the Assad-regime acts as a buffer to the growing influence of militant Islam in the region, which is of increasing concern to Russia.

However, by brokering this deal with the US, Russia has placed itself in the international spotlight. It will have to stand or fall with Syria in what can be described as a double edged sword situation. Russia has in effect guaranteed that Syria will comply with the provisions of the Framework. If that does not happen, it could turn into a diplomatic disaster for Russia. Because of the threat of unilateral military action by the US, the possibility of any (further) use of chemical weapons by President Assad is remote. He does however need to comply with, amongst other things, the handing over of his entire stockpile, the outcome of which remains to be seen.

From a US perspective it is mission accomplished, although the feathers of many allies have been ruffled in the process. President Assad has been deterred from using chemical weapons, his ability to use these weapons will be severely degraded and a strong message has been sent that the use of such weapons will not be tolerated by the international community. More importantly, by not using unilateral military force, the US has stayed within the UN system, bolstering its authority.

As for Russia, it has scored a diplomatic victory and could be on its way in recovering its superpower status. This is a positive turn of events in the sense that Russia is now, like the US, operating within the international political system, sharing the responsibilities of taking the lead on issues of mutual importance and in this instance, contributing to upholding international norms.

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