Syria: How Strong Are Russian Ties?

by PATRICK COCKBURN

The expulsion of diplomats always looks like a weedy response to an atrocity, particularly one as outrageous as the murder of children at Houla. Unsurprisingly, news reports  about kicking out the diplomats yesterday often concluded mournfully that the move wouldn’t do much good.

This is true, but the presence or absence of diplomats is always symbolic. It increases the isolation of Syria, which will not in itself lead to the overthrow of the regime but will weaken it. Probably its most significant impact will be to sow doubts in the minds of Russian, Chinese and Iranian leaders about how much more political capital they want to spend to protect President Bashar al-Assad.

Before Houla, Syria was making some progress in persuading other powers that it was going to survive at least for the moment. The accusation that the ceasefire agreement reached by Kofi Annan was a smokescreen for doing nothing very effective in Syria was largely true. The Syrian authorities blithely ignored provisions about releasing detainees and allowing peaceful protests, but a military ceasefire left President Assad in control of much of the country.

It was in his interest to avoid any atrocity that would draw international attention. It is a measure of the lack of effective decision-making within the regime that they could not restrain their own forces. “Within the regime, there are divisions between the civilians, military and security,” believes one commentator in Damascus. “There is not a single authority ruling the state but clusters of authority within the leadership.”

Expulsion of diplomats ratchets up Syria’s pariah status. It may persuade Syrians and the rest of the region that President Assad is not going to last beyond the short term. The lack of diplomatic representation will not doom the leadership. But certain changes will take place. De-legitimisation at home and abroad will be greater; it be will easier for Saudi Arabia and others to arm the opposition.

Russia, meanwhile, is visibly uncomfortable at being portrayed as the crucial support of child killers. Opponents of President Assad hope that the Houla massacre will be the turning point, but this is not wholly certain.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.

 


Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 30, 2015
Bill Blunden
The NSA’s 9/11 Cover-Up: General Hayden Told a Lie, and It’s a Whopper
Richard Ward
Sandra Bland, Rebel
Jeffrey St. Clair
How One Safari Nut, the CIA and Neoliberal Environmentalists Plotted to Destroy Mozambique
Martha Rosenberg
Tracking the Lion Killers Back to the Old Oval Office
Binoy Kampmark
Dead Again: the Latest Demise of Mullah Omar
Kathy Kelly – Buddy Bell
No Warlords Need Apply: a Call for Credible Peacemaking in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
Darker Horizons Ahead: Rethinking the War on ‘IS’
Stephen Lendman
The Show Trial of Saif Qaddafi: a Manufactured Death Sentence
John Grant
The United States of Absurdity, Circa 2015
Karl Grossman
The Case of John Peter Zenger and the Fight for a Free Press
Cesar Chelala
Cultural Treasures Are Also Victims of War
Jeff Taylor
Iowa Conference on Presidential Politics
July 29, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey
Joshua Frank
The Wheels Fell Off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon
Conn Hallinan
Ukraine: Close to the Edge
Stephen Lendman
What Happened to Ralkina Jones? Another Jail Cell Death
Rob Wallace
Neoliberal Ebola: the Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak
Dmitry Rodionov
The ‘Ichkerization’ Crime Wave in Ukraine
Joyce Nelson
Scott Walker & Stephen Harper: a New Bromance
Bill Blunden
The Red Herring of Digital Backdoors and Key Escrow Encryption
Thomas Mountain
The Sheepdog Politics of Barack Obama
Farzana Versey
A President and a Yogi: Abdul Kalam’s Symbolism
Norman Pollack
America’s Decline: Internal Structural-Cultural Subversion
Foday Darboe
How Obama Failed Africa
Cesar Chelala
Russia’s Insidious Epidemic
Tom H. Hastings
Defending Democracy
David Macaray
Why Union Contracts are Good for the Country
Virginia Arthur
The High and Dry Sierras
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, the Season Finale, Mekonception in Redhook
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz