Policy Alert: U.S.-Russia Agreement on Syria’s Chemical Weapons Spark Reaction in Asia
On September 14, the United States and Russia reached a sweeping deal that called for Syria’s chemical weapons to be removed or destroyed by the middle of 2014, ending a political gridlock over American airstrikes that severely divided Washington and the international community. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from Russia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea on the U.S.-Russia agreement and Russia’s role in the negotiation process.
Earlier in the month, President Putin’s New York Times op-ed to Americans on the Syrian crisis and U.S. Senator John McCain’s response to Putin in Russian newspaper Pravda evoked a flurry of analysis and opinion.
- The Moscow Times reported that at the Valdai Discussion Club held last Thursday, Putin’s article was “almost universally seen as a major image boost for Putin.” At the same time, an audience member noted that the article has made him “hostage to the arrangement,” because if the Syria deal fails, Russia may have to answer for it.
- Responding to Senator McCain’s statement that Russia deserves a better leader than Putin, the Russian president acknowledged that while McCain is entitled to his own views, “the fact that he chose to publish his article in Pravda” attested that “he is not well-informed about our country,” since the prestige of Communist newspaper Pravda was mostly lost with the Soviet Union.
- Alexei Pushkov, head of the State Duma’s committee for international affairs also dismissed Senator McCain’s article. “Senator McCain was unwilling to give answers to all these important questions set forth in Putin’s article – quite possibly, he has nothing to say in response,” Pushkov concluded.
A majority of Russian commentators lauded Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role in developing a solution to the Syrian chemical weapons crisis.
- Russian political analyst Andrey Sushentsov characterized Russia’s treatment of the Syria crisis as a “cautious and sensible approach” and noted that “The West interprets the Russian initiative proposing a path to end the Syrian crisis as Moscow’s diplomatic victory, while Russia perceives it as the United States getting back to common sense in international relations.”
- “The local success of Moscow’s Syrian initiative does not negate the systemic problems of Russia’s foreign and domestic policy, warned online politics and business newspaperGazeta.ru. Despite Russia’s participation in solving the Syrian question, the editorial opined that “Russia still does not know what kind of country it wants to be or what place to take in the modern world.”
- “Western countries are more focused on exercising their political dominance than finding a solution to Syria’s chemical weapons crisis,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Russia’s Channel One TV.
The Chinese government and commentators supported the framework agreement reached by the United States and Russia, pledging to play a “positive and constructive role” at the United Nations in helping resolve the crisis over Syria’s chemical weapons.
- Chen Weihua, deputy editor of China Daily, commented that while most consider the deal on Syria a win for President Putin, the deal is also a win for Obama. “The timely deal has given him a face-saving way out of his pursuit of domestically unpopular military action, a path he was forced to take in order to defend his statement that the use of chemical weapons would cross a red line.”
- The Global Times was cautiously optimistic about prospects for Syria: “Getting rid of chemical weapons in conflict ridden Syria will be a complex undertaking, with the devil in the details. The upside is that hopefully a deterrent is put in place to spare the Syrian people of further such atrocities.”
India welcomed the U.S.-Russia agreement on Syria. Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Akbaruddin called it a “step towards the reinvigoration of peace efforts towards a political solution to the Syrian conflict.” Indian newspapers expressed favorable opinions on the agreement and Russia’s role in the negotiation.
- Calling the U.S.-Russia deal “a game-changer” that proves the power of diplomacy, The Hindu declared “a stunning victory” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been calling for a diplomatic settlement. “His attempt marks one of the most politically savvy gestures by a head of state to reach across the aisle to a foreign audience in recent years.”
- Comparing Russia with China and India’s passive involvement in Syria, C. Raja Mohan commended President Putin’s active diplomatic initiatives that reclaimed Russia’s role as a global power. “If the rising powers of Asia showed that they are not ready to involve themselves in conflicts far from their borders, Russia, widely presumed to be a declining power, showed that, with Putin at the helm, Moscow cannot just be counted out of the Middle East.”
Following the U.S.-Russia agreement on September 14, Japanese Foreign Minister Humio Kishi swiftly showed support, stating that “Japan welcomes this agreement.” While viewing the agreement as a positive development, Japanese newspapers called for increasing international pressure against the Syrian regime to fulfill its promise.
- The Yomiuri Shimbun emphasized that the agreement “should not permit [the] Syrian regime to buy time,” claiming that “strong pressure, including the threat of military strikes, is essential to ensure the Assad regime abides by the agreement to eliminate chemical weapons.”
- The Sankei Shimbun agreed, demanding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “responsible action” as the proposer of the agreement, including passing UN Security Council resolution that includes the potential use of force based on Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Korean newspapers disagreed whether the U.S.-Russia agreement would succeed, while discussing its implications for the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program.
- The Hankyoreh remained optimistic that “there is a fair chance that this agreement will actually be carried out,” adding that the successful fulfillment of the U.S.-Russia agreement will have a positive influence on efforts to resolve the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program. “It could serve as a helpful precedent in which countries affected by an issue get actively involved to seek a compromise, find a solution, and put it into practice.”
- The Korea Joongang Daily disagreed. “The plan probably won’t work,” wrote the newspaper, calling it “an astonishing victory” for President Assad, who has secured his power by making himself indispensable in the disarmament process, and also for President Putin, who “made himself into the new power player of the Middle East” through his handling of the crisis.