17.09.2013 Author: Petr Lvov

What’s behind the Geneva agreements on Syria?

NEO collageThe Geneva agreements on Syrian chemical weapons continue being the top matter in major international media and the key issue in international politics. It is to be said that the interpretations of this “transaction”, that Russia and the United States have made, are quite different. The enthusiasm about a peaceful pause has come to naught gradually, and sound assessments and sober reflections is appearing on the achievements and the scope of work to be done in order to ensure that the Geneva accords on chemical weapons do not turn into another pipe dream, as was the case with Geneva-1 and Geneva-2 agreements on Syria.

Therefore, “we shall be free of any illusion about the Geneva Agreement on Syria: it has prevented the U.S. from military action, but does not mean that they will reject a ‘regime change’ in Syria,” A. Pushkov, Chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs, wrote on his page on Twitter.

The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, in his turn, believes that the agreement, that Russia and the United States have achieved, provides an opportunity for a “complete elimination” of chemical weapons in Syria, noting that “the use of force against Syria remains real”. Obama warned about it the day before. “There will be consequences if the regime of Bashar al-Assad does not comply with the framework agreement that has been reached today. If diplomacy is ineffective, the United States will be ready to act,” he said on Saturday.

Thus, the power scenario of Washington against Damascus remains in force, although in its initiative, Moscow spoke about a counter motion and guarantees from both sides.

Chemical weapon experts are also skeptical. The task of eliminating such a dangerous warfare agent like sarin can be difficult, even in the best of circumstances, to say nothing of Syria: the inspectors will have to rush into the thick of the military conflict, they warn. The U.S. agreed to get rid of chemical weapons 20 years ago, but this task still remains unfinished, despite the fact that billions of dollars are being spent on it, Russia is also behind schedule, The Washington Post wrote on Sunday.

The well-known American columnist Gregory White, in his article “Russia Gains Clout with Syria Initiative” in The Wall Street Journal of September 15, writes that: “For President Vladimir Putin, who has publicly lamented Russia’s fading influence and the woes of what he saw as the dangerous global hegemony of America since he came to power in 2000. This turnabout is especially sweet, since just two weeks ago, it looked as if Moscow was running out of options. Nevertheless, this Syria initiative, which calls for bringing Damascus’s arsenal of chemical weapons under international control, has risks for Moscow as well, which now must ensure that its often-recalcitrant ally is cooperative enough to avoid sabotaging the process.” That is, Moscow has become a hostage to ensuring the process of elimination of chemical weapons in Syria is successful.

Though Moscow’s assertiveness has unsettled some of the U.S. diplomats, officials in Washington say that the Kremlin is no longer part of the Syrian problem, at least temporarily, and has become part of its possible solution. As the diplomats say, American and Russian representatives have been discussing the idea of forcing Damascus to abandon chemical weapons for at least year already, but apparently, Moscow was either not ready or could not force the Assad regime to adopt such a measure.

“The agreement achieved on Saturday is a victory for both Moscow and Washington, though its proper implementation and prospects are still far from certain,” said senior research fellow at the Brookings Institution and the former Ambassador Steven Pifer. “To implement this agreement, the Russians will need to put pressure on Damascus, if the Syrians procrastinate and delay the process. The question is whether Moscow is ready to do this. So far, the Kremlin has earned some precious extra time for the Assad regime to continue its military offensive against the opposition, and once again has demonstrated Russia’s commitment to its ally. Moscow condemns shipment of arms to the rebels, but meantime, it has been consistently delivering the most advanced weapons systems to the regime.” (Original publication: Russia Gains Clout with Syria Initiative, 15.09.2013)

Another American columnist Doyle McManus in his publication “America: not isolationism, but skepticism”, published in the “Los Angeles Times”, believes that President Obama and his aides were surprised this month by the strength of public opposition to their call for military action against Syria. However, this reaction is quite predictable. Today, Americans have more reasons to be skeptical. They have survived wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ordinary Americans fear that any armed conflict in the Middle East will inevitably turn into another quagmire.

Undoubtedly, the public has doubts about the justification for U.S. intervention in the affairs of another country. Pew Research Center recently reported that 46% of Americans are of the opinion that “the United States should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.”Americans recoiled from Obama’s proposal to attack Syria not only because they are skeptical about military adventures in general, but because they were not convinced that this particular venture was in the national interest.

The former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, commented on the Russian-American agreement on the destruction of chemical stockpiles of Bashar al-Assad in an interview given to the Jerusalem Post: “I think it’s extremely difficult to do something like this during an active conflict. It will take a very large amount of time, with a significant amount of military protection so that the inspectors can be as safe as possible. That aspect will present huge challenges. Which country, first of all, will provide the scientists who will take these risks, and the military forces to back them up? This is a very dangerous situation. Kemp continued, secondly, to get verification in this kind of situation, I would say, is impossible. It would be very easy for President [Bashar] Assad to hide or remove out of the country significant quantities of chemical weapons.” The British General goes on to predict: “We may witness a token show of disarmament. I do not think that this is real disarmament.”

In Geneva, the question about the identity of those who used chemical weapons on August 21 remains open. Moscow is convinced that this was done by the rebels. Then how will they answer for it? Russian expert Sh. Mamayev writes about this in his article “Barack Obama Lost Syria to Riyadh”: It is interesting that in the Damascus suburb that has been subjected to attacks, it is rumored that chemical weapons were handed over to the rebels by the head of intelligence and the Chairman of the National Security Council of Saudi Arabia, Prince Bandar. Evidence in this regard has been collected form militants and their relatives and subsequently published in an article by a freelance journalist of an Arab origin, Dale Gavlak. He has been working for English language press for 20 years and is well-versed in the situation, and knows many people in the Middle East.

The evidence that he published suggests that the Saudi militant Abu Ayesha, known in the area as a battalion commander, asked a group of local fighters to secretly move some weapons in the form of “huge gas bottles” and “tubes” to the territory of the Free Syrian Army, so that they would not fall into the hands of the jihadists of al-Qaeda.” Many of the militants say that all of these “cargo” allegedly came from Prince Bandar, and blame him for hiding the fact that these were chemical weapons, and not having trained them to deal with it. As a result, in the tunnel, where the “cargo” were stockpiled, there was an explosion, which led to many casualties among both opposition fighters, including the “carriers” themselves, and among civilians of Ghouta. Characteristically, the militants themselves insisted on the “accidental nature of the explosion” due to “carriers’” incompetent handling of these weapons, which were given to them by Saudi Arabia. This is the key point, which gives credence to their testimony, because it did not even come to their minds that Abu Ayesha (or Prince Bandar) was not preparing a military operation, but an anti-Assad provocation – that is why the “carriers” who ‘blindly” used these chemical weapons were also to be destroyed. Otherwise, they would have proven to be very dangerous witnesses. Therefore, most likely, the explosion of the “cargo” occurred not because of negligence of the local “carriers”, but was rather planned or produced intentionally.

In this connection, we must take seriously Dale Gavlak’s version about the involvement of Prince Bandar in the bombing. As the man, who arrived in Moscow on July 31 this year and assured the Russian president that he controls the Chechen rebels in Syria and in the Caucasus, and guaranteed “a peaceful Olympics in Sochi”, is sure to know a lot of interesting things about Abu Ayesha and the terrorist attack in East Ghouta. However, looking at the behavior of Barack Obama, one is under the impression that none of these versions will be considered – even if Putin is right. After all, Saudi Arabia remains a strategic ally of the United States, and so this means that Washington has lost Syria to Riyadh.

All this points to the fragility of the Geneva agreements. Since the United States are leaded by Saudi Arabia belligerant intent towards Syria, Obama’s “peacekeeping” could not provide optimism, especially when drivent by Russian initiative.

Pyotr Lvov, Doctor of Political Sciences, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.