Russia has just proposed convening Geneva II for a political solution of the Syrian conflict in Moscow instead of the Swiss town.
This week, after nearly three years of warfare in Syria, Moscow has finally come around to agreeing with the Obama administration that President Bashar Assad must somehow be pushed out of power.
In search of a way to achieve this, DEBKA Weekly’s Moscow sources report that the Russians have taken three steps:
1. They are secretly recruiting Syrian political figures below the top rank which are not part of the Assad or his clan’s following, or leading lights of the main military and government establishments in the capital. They are to be put forward as Syrian delegates (with still undefined status) to Geneva II.
This summit may not take off at the end of the month as scheduled.
The delay will give Moscow more time to pick the right Syrian figures for their purpose. They must be sympathetic to Russia – like many second-line regime officials – hold with keeping Syrian government institutions in place, yet of the opinion that it is time for Assad to go.
The first candidate the Russians chose was Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil.
He is a top leader of the People’s Will Party and the Popular Front for Change and Liberation, which maintains ties to the Syrian communist party.
Jamil had been spending most of his time in Moscow and traveled to the Syrian capital only when he had Russian consent and Russian security guards.
More than a year ago, on Aug. 21, 2012, Jamil offered the view that Assad’s resignation could be considered provided the opposition was willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Syrian uprising.
Assad strikes back
The Syrian president received word of the Russian change of face on his removal on Oct. 29. On the spot, he fired Jamil from all his government posts.
The message to Moscow was clear: The Russians had better think again if they think they can easily get rid of Assad. And if they keep on trying, they will run into the same wall as the Americans did.
A few hours after he was sacked, Jamil was on the air of the Russian Arabic-language channel broadcasting from Moscow and reading out a written statement asserting that he would be back in Damascus in a few days.
2. The Russians were finally telling Washington in their recent contacts that, after three years of digging in their heels against discussing Assad’s future, they were amenable to a deal for settling his fate, in the same way as the two powers had cooperated on an arrangement for Syria’s chemical arsenal.
Asked to specify, the Russians said they were looking for ways to ease Assad out of power.
3. Moscow is also exploring the prospects of bringing Saudi Arabia aboard this deal, in the belief that Assad’s isolation by the concerted lineup of Washington, Moscow and Riyadh would make him reconsider his decision to stand for election to another term as president next year.
He may then announce a decision to step aside to avoid becoming an obstacle to national reconciliation – or so Moscow hopes.
Differing views on the effect of Moscow’s defection
The urgency of their quest for this trilateral front appears to have closed Russian minds to the fact that Syria is one of the principal bones of contention between Riyadh and Washington. (See the article on the three Saudi fronts against the US).
The Syrian president, for his part, has put on an air of nonchalance over the big-power schemes to unseat him.
When he met the UN-Arab Syrian envoy, Lakhdar Brahami in Damascus Wednesday Oct. 30, Assad put forward a long list of complications that would undermine the peace conference for Syria. He said they could only succeed if foreign powers – namely the US and Saudi Arabia – ended their material support of the Syrian rebels.
Furthermore, only the Syrian people would decide in free elections on its choice for ruler – not the foreigners arming the rebels.
By these comments, the Syrian ruler left open a decision on whether or not he would run for reelection.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence experts on Syria, analysts in Washington, Moscow and Tel Aviv can’t make up their minds about his prospects or intentions. Most agree that the change in Moscow’s attitude limits his survivability in power and he will eventually fall.
Some say time is in Assad’s favor
The minority view is that Assad is methodically bolstering his strength at home and will once again confound all the experts and surprise them by hanging onto power regardless. They point to the ceasefire pacts between rebel and Syrian army commanders spreading across the battlefield. It is only a matter of time, they say, before the Assad regime begins serving the civilian populations in those pacified rebel-held areas with supplies and services.
In this way, the pacts between the field commanders will soon restore large areas to government control. Assad may then come out the war smiling and more unready to quit than ever.