Apparently some of those who sponsored the rebellion in Syria have become so brazen that they decided to “punish” Moscow by using terrorists to intimidate it for its principled support of the diplomatic option for resolving the situation in Syria and for continuing its military sales to Damascus. On the morning of June 4, terrorists fired two mortar rounds at the Russian embassy building in Damascus. One round exploded next to the building, literally 20 meters away from its wall. And although there were no casualties among embassy personnel, the embassy building’s facade was severely damaged. However, one passerby was killed and two Syrian security personnel on the Embassy’s outer perimeter were injured.
The terrorist mortar attack took place while Moscow was actively engaged in consultations on the Geneva 2 conference for a political resolution to the Syrian crisis and had once again spoken out against any foreign military intervention in the country and criticized actions by a number of Persian Gulf states to thwart it. It also occurred just before a Russian-US meeting in Geneva on the issue and contacts between the Russian delegation and members of the Syrian opposition.
This is not the first time such methods intended to “influence” Russia by force have “happened” during the Syrian conflict. But the last time, the Russian mission in Syria was not the target. That incident happened in a different country — one that goes by the name of Qatar, the chief financial sponsor of the Syrian armed opposition. Thus, we would be safe in assuming that this is where the recent terrorist attack originated. On that occasion, on November 29, 2011, the Russian ambassador to Qatar, Vladimir Titorenko, was severely beaten in the Doha airport when he went to pick up the diplomatic pouch he had brought with him from Jordan. The local police began kicking him, striking him in the head with their boots so hard that he suffered retinal detachment. That incident was preceded by “warnings” over a six-week period that included the publication of anti-Russian articles in the Qatari press calling for violent actions against Russian diplomats and diplomatic missions abroad, demonstrations in front of our diplomatic missions and the expulsion of Russian experts from Arab countries. They even said that Moscow should not be surprised if force is used against its embassies or if they come under terrorist attack. The World Council of Islamic Theologians added its voice to the call. It is permanently based in Doha and is actually the chief ideologue of the international Muslim Brotherhood organization. Sheikh Youssef al- Qaradawi, Al Jazeera’s overseer who inspired the Arab “revolutions” also joined in. He has vociferously and rudely criticized Russia for his position on Syria.
In all likelihood, Qatar’s fingerprints are all over the June 4 mortar attack. But now, beating up an ambassador is not enough. A mortar attack on Russia’s diplomatic mission in Damascus was used as a deterrent. However, it may not have been a deterrent, but an attempt to hit the embassy. The terrorists could simply have missed.
The sponsors of the Syrian opposition are concerned about something else. France has made no bones about its anger that Russia has not responded to Paris’s supposed evidence that the Syrian Army has used sarin against FSA fighters — especially that the Russian press has published almost nothing about it.
Paris, London and Doha are convinced that Moscow’s diplomatic efforts are intended to buy time for the pro-government forces in Syria that, according to France, Britain and the Wahhabi monarchies in Arabia, are being assisted by Iranian instructors and fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah. They are also very upset that Russia prefers to ignore the position of the so-called “Friends of Syria” and at the same time is trying to involve Washington, its only real partner so far in the Geneva 2 initiative, in its diplomatic game.
Under the circumstances, Paris and London now look like the European Union’s main “instigators” of the Syrian conflict, and they are prepared to send weapons to the Syrian rebels after the EU’s recent lifting of its embargo on supplying the opposition. Moscow, naturally, would perceive that move as exacerbating the war in Syria. “If one side removes restrictions, the other side need no longer consider itself bound by previous restrictions,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu said after the EU’s decision. Especially since the Russian Federation and the European Union have always treated each other pragmatically and equitably, on a tit-for-tat basis. At the Russia-EU summit in Yekaterinburg on May 4, President Vladimir Putin assured his counterparts from the European Union that Russia “for now” would not be sending Syria S-300 air defense missile systems to avoid disturbing the balance of power in the region. In other words, if London and Paris arm the rebels, Damascus would get S-300s. Syrian acquisition of these missile systems, which are capable of intercepting aircraft and guided missiles in flight, would be a serious obstacle to French and British plans to put a no-fly zone in place over Syria and would hinder the establishment of “humanitarian corridors” (note: France’s idea) on Syrian soil, supposedly to supply the civilian population with food and medicine, but also to undermine plans for destroying the chemical weapons stockpiles. “… [A]ny attempt to influence the situation by force, through direct military intervention, is doomed to failure, and will inevitably lead to severe humanitarian consequences,” Putin said after the summit with the EU.
The rebels’ sponsors are also angry that Russia not only fully supports the diplomacy of peaceful settlement, it is also the main supplier of weapons to Damascus under existing military-technical cooperation contracts.
Therefore, despite the upcoming conference in Geneva, which Moscow clearly regards with little optimism, talks on military-technical cooperation are continuing as usual. According to reports in the Western media, a Syrian delegation arrived in Moscow on May 31 to discuss the details of a new contract for delivery of MiG-29M/M2 fighters. They quote Sergei Korotkov, the CEO of the MiG aircraft company, as saying that Syria intends to buy more than 10 aircraft.
I might add that over the past three days armed groups of the Syrian opposition have suffered one defeat after another, and Damascus is regaining control over major Syrian cities. The loss of al-Qusayr, a strategically important city in the center of the country not far from the Lebanese border, on June 4 was especially painful for the rebels. However, as the Arab proverb says, “The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.” But it is unbecoming for the opponents of a peace settlement in Syria to resort to the use of terrorists in a powerless rage and pay them to carry out a mortar attack on the Russian embassy. After all, if evidence turns up that points to who is behind it, they could fall under the international antiterrorist conventions and resolutions of the UN Security Council. Then the United States would probably side with Russia, given Washington’s attitude towards international terrorism, which both Americans citizens and US diplomatic missions have repeatedly suffered from. And London and Paris would also have to side with the leaders of the international antiterrorist coalition.
Indeed, if it turns out that Qatar is implicated in the mortar shelling of Russia’s Embassy in Damascus, many people will immediately recall that it was on the US terrorist list 12 years ago, and some members of the ruling Al Thani dynasty were involved in helping those who carried out the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011. Could it be time for the international community to concern itself with this small but extremely aggressive Emirate and do a legal evaluation of its efforts to ignite the Arab “revolutions” and at the same time investigate Doha’s funding of the rebels in Syria and Libya, as well as radical Islamist organizations around the world? After all, it flies in the face of the UN Charter and international law.
Viktor Titov, Cand. Sc. (History), is a Middle East analyst. Exclusively for New Eastern Outlook.