Frustrated Arabs Urge Action From Russia
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#1 Feb 18, 2012
Disappointed and bewildered by Russia's continued backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, several Arab dignitaries and political analysts have called on Moscow to take a clear stance and urgent action to put an end to bloodshed in Syria.
"We believe that the Russian position on Syria is wrong," Mohamed Tharwat, the head of the Egypt-based Strategic Studies Center, said during an international Valdai conference held over the weekend in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. "We used to look at Russia as a supporter of the Arabs; now, we see that Russia is supporting their killing."
Meanwhile, Russian analysts and officials have argued that Moscow's position on Syria aims to protect its statehood and undercut what Russia calls Western attempts to unseat unwanted regimes by supporting the armed opposition.
Alexei Vasilyev from the Russian Academy of Sciences said he believed international media was unfairly "demonizing" Russia over it's attitude towards the Syrian regime, "but those are lies."
"What is Bashar al-Assad for Russia? An ally? This is not serious," he said.
Moscow's primary concern is to protect the country's sovereignty, Vasilyev said.
"We cannot import Western values [to the Arab world] if the people do not want this," he said.
Russia and China, both permanent United Nations Security Council members, have vetoed two UN resolutions on Syria in October and early February.
Moscow has threatened to continue blocking what it calls Western attempts to interfere in Syria's domestic affairs and influence the regime change there. The dismissed draft resolutions have blamed the violence in Syria exclusively on the Assad regime. Russia has insisted that both the regime and the protesters should be held responsible for the bloodshed which has already claimed more than 5,400 lives, according to UN estimates.
Hany El-Sayed, a veteran Egyptian journalist, said the Russian-Chinese veto on a UN resolution condemning the Syrian regime "was very much criticized by the Arabs and triggered a lot of anger."
"The veto shows that the Middle East is like a chess board in the war between Russia and the United States," El-Sayed said. "Russia is trying to make decisions that would undermine U.S. influence in the Middle East."
Syria is one of Russia's major arms purchaser, and hosts Russia's ship support and maintenance base - Moscow's only access to the Mediterranean - in its port of Tartus. But "it is not right to explain Russia's position by mercantile interests alone," said Vitaly Naumkin, who heads the Moscow-based Institute of Oriental Studies.
"We are not saying that Russia should change its interests in favor of those of the West," said Omar Ibrahim al-Zubaidi, the head of the British Broadcasting Corporation's Saudi office. "But there are people who are being killed by soldiers. And people have the right to demand changes."
Some Arab analysts, meanwhile, appear to have taken a "middle of the fence" position.
"I can understand why Russia is acting as it does [toward Syria]," Nourhan El-Sheikh, a professor in Political Science at Cairo University, told RIA Novosti on the sidelines of the conference. "Russia is not defending Assad; it is defending Syria as a state."
She said that should a war begin in Syria, it was likely to "split into parts, which would affect the entire Arab world."
"We don't want another Libya," she said.
But "unfortunately, ordinary Arab people don't understand Russia's behavior," the analyst admitted, adding: "Russia should better explain its position" if it wants its voice to be heard in the Arab street.
Ahmed Najib Chebbi, a former Tunisian presidential candidate from the opposition, said "Russia has always been a favorite friend in the Arab world."
"But let me tell you the truth; now, the role of Russia has shrunk a little," he added.
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