Monday, March 03, 2014

Syria failures didn't cause Ukraine crisis - just make it look even more dismaying

Amid so much uncertainty this past week way out east – and in the western world, responding – there has at least been one political truism to which many have solemnly nodded along.

That is, that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad must be heaving, even enjoying, a mighty sigh of relief.

Then again, such a consensus assumption would suggest he even felt much to fear from the West even before latest developments kicking off in Kiev and Crimea.

Russia and Vladimir Putin have won many grudgingly-admiring arguments from over here, congratulating him for not only playing a blinder but also playing just so the US and the UK over Syria.

Why, he managed to not only buttress against any United Nations military intervention – along with presently-neglected obstacle China - he also managed to negotiate as no other nation could a dismantling of Assad’s chemical weapons armoury.

Perhaps even more impressive, mind, was how he seemed to collude in a medio-political consensus that those chemical weapons were pretty much the be-all-and-end-all.

Viscerally horrific as those much-publicised chemical attacks in Syria were, they did become a little too much of a handy global shorthand for the country’s troubles.

Meanwhile, rockets and bombs continue to shell cities, towns and villages across Syria on a daily basis - the cause of so many millions of people being forced out of their homes, forced to watch loved ones die or forced to suffer life-changing wounds themselves.

Yet the public stance of unburdening his specifically-chemical stockpiles has bought Assad time, time only too happily eaten up by UN bodies who have only just got around to staging their much-touted second round of peace talks.

‘Geneva II’, for all the invariable difficulties bringing disparate warring sides together across the same table, even managed to massively disappoint by only really paving the way for, say, a 'Geneva III'?

(A trilogy-closer which threatens to invite just as much disappointment as that The Godfather conclusion.)

All of which is to suggest that the intractable problems the West faces in Syria are hardly simply transposed to Ukraine, notwithstanding that Mother Russia has dug her heels in on both.

Some Conservative ministers have even been briefing that Ed Miliband’s concerns over British-backed military strikes on Syria last summer have helped embolden Putin in Crimea – as if he hardly had any Soviet-style ambitions beforehand.

The very idea – as suggested by the coalition's financial secretary Sajid Javid – that a vote against war is a strike against peace seems somehow a little 1984-esque, regardless of either side of the argument’s merits.

For the moment, Putin and Russia look in the aggressive and alarming ascendancy, as they did when stalling not only Syria intervention but aid-related sanctions.

Yet as recently as a week ago this alleged string-puller seemed taken aback by the pace of the Ukrainian demonstrators’ uprising and the flight of his protégé Viktor Yanukovych, who has since been reduced to Black Knight-style pleas of defiance.

Meanwhile, Assad of course must be looking on with some delight at being yesterday’s news.

Yet, even for the UN as for us, he has been (un/)safely so for ages already.

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