Russia’s Cynical Ploy on Syria

For the first time in a while, the USA and Russia are meeting face to face for a renewed diplomatic push on Syria. The New York Times hails an agreement between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry to simply hold a meeting as a “hopeful sign.” There are many other signs, though, that augur in the opposite direction.

One is the Russian proposal to sell advanced weaponry to Syria. Another sign of diplomatic fissure which has gotten far less attention is a spat at the Security Council over a proposed trip to Jordan. And it’s rather revealing.

Here’s the story:

At the Security Council this week, there was further signs of estrangement between the West and Russia. The flashpoint this time was over Jordan’s request to the Security Council that the council identifies the refugee crisis a “threat to international peace and security;” and also visit Jordan and other countries affected by Syrian refugee flows.

Russia strenuously objected to the former, and cleverly found a way to scuttle the latter.

“Threat to international peace and security” is a rather loaded term. It serves as the preamble to every Chapter VII Security Council resolution that authorize sanctions, interventions or other means of compellence. Admitting that Syria poses an international threat could be considered a stepping stone to the kind of Security Council action that Russia strenuously wants to avoid. It would also do the away with the fiction, promoted by Russia, that the Syrian civil war is  strictly an internal matter.

It is also why Russia does not want the council to make a formal mission to Jordan or other countries affected by the refugee crisis. Such a mission may make it harder for diplomats to deny the internationalized threat of this conflict, and the destabilizing effect of refugee flows on Jordan or Lebanon. Russia (and China) can’t very well admit this, so Moscow and Beijing proposed that the council also visit Palestine while in the region. They did so knowing full well that this is something that the USA would object to out of hand.

It’s clever. It’s cynical. And it just might work. It also demonstrated just how far apart the USA and Russia is on coming together over Syria, despite those “hopeful signs” earlier this week.