Turmoil in Syria: Chinese and Russian views
Last week, China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. In this post, we examine Chinese and Russian views on the Syrian crisis.
Commentary in China was generally critical of the West and supportive of China’s UN veto on Syria as a stance consistent with its approach to international issues.
A number of Chinese state-run news outlets criticized the West for intervening in Syria’s internal affairs, adding that the rejection of the UN resolution reflects the will of Moscow and Beijing to counter Western influence.
- At present, Syria has become “a game by and between great powers…that seek to set the template for resolving the crisis of a sovereign state,” declared the People’s Daily.
- Xinhua editor Lu Hui argued that, “Behind the excuse of ‘for democracy and liberty of the Middle East,’ the real motive of the Western countries is to change the political landscape of the whole Middle East area for their own benefit.” He outlines two benefits the West hopes to gain via Syria:
- First, bringing down the Syrian government will “increase the West’s chips on the Iranian issue as Syria and Iran enjoy close relations.”
- Second, “the United States, a strong patron of Israel, also hopes to instill a new regime in Syria which distances itself from Iran and becomes less hostile to Israel and the West.”
Most analyses of the veto explained it as a lesson learned from last year’s experience with Libya, during which Russia had abstained on the UN Security Council resolution that authorized the no-fly zone over Libya. Commentators stressed the need to avoid repeating a potential “Libya scenario.”
- Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Russia in Global Affairs journal: “After Moscow refrained from using its veto in the UNSC, paving the way for ‘humanitarian intervention’ by NATO, the ‘no-fly zone’ mandate was almost immediately shifted into a regime change operation led by France and Britain. Russia felt its cooperation had been abused. It is because of this that Moscow now refuses to cooperate on Syria.”
- Referring to the UN veto: “That’s a perfectly clever move; we’re protecting our own interests,” said Vladimir Bartenev, a global affairs analyst with the Moscow State University. In the event that the West bypasses the Security Council, “one of Russia’s objectives is to paint the West as idiots ignoring the United Nations.”
- Yevgeny Satanovsky, head of the Middle East Institute think-tank agrees, adding that “such an intervention would be illegitimate in the eyes of the global community.” He also notes that “a possible intervention would be a prelude to a standoff with Iran, Syria’s main ally.”
Commentators were mixed on Syria’s strategic importance to Russia:
- Igor Panarin, Dean of Russia’s Diplomatic Academy, views Syria as Russia’s “strategic ally, who could assist Russia in restoring its military presence in the Mediterranean.” Classifying those countries that were in favor of the UN vote as “NATO heavyweights,” Panarin suggested that their “ultimate objective is most likely turning Syria into another Iraq.”
- Andrei Murtazin from the state-run Ria Novosti states that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s February 7 trip to Damascus “reaffirmed Russia’s readiness to stand up to the West and the Arab League in defense of its last remaining ally in the Middle East.” Nonetheless, Murtazin concludes that “confrontation with both Arab and Western countries would greatly damage Russia’s hard-won international image as a democratic state