Annan takes Syria peace plan to Russia
24, Mar, AFP
Syrian peace envoy Kofi Annan heads to Moscow on Saturday to gauge
how far Russia is willing to push its key Arab ally after it finally
joined a UN call on regime forces to pull back from protest cities.
Annan will meet President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov on Sunday before flying to China, the other UN Security Council
member resisting global efforts to condemn Syrian President Bashar
The UN-Arab League envoy will be carrying with him the embattled
leader's answer to a peace plan under which Syria could begin a
"political transition" to a representative government, with no
specifically defined role for Assad.
Moscow backed Wednesday's non-binding Security Council statement in
support of the initiative only after making sure it contained no
implicit threat of further action should Assad fail to comply.
Washington's UN ambassador Susan Rice admitted that the UN call
represented only "a modest step" towards ending a year of bloodshed that
the opposition says has claimed more than 9,100 lives.
But it came amid growing signs that Moscow was beginning to lose
patience with Annan, despite his commitment to massive new Russian arms
purchases and the granting of key naval access to the Mediterranean Sea.
A top Kremlin-linked lamwker said Assad should treat the UN statement
as "an insistent recommendation" whose implementation would determine
the future course of relations between the two countries.
"Assad has to take the first step: he must pull the Syrian army out
of large cities," the lower house of parliament's foreign affairs chief
Mikhail Margelov said on Thursday.
"Russia's future position on the conflict will depend on how
succesfully (the Syrian government) complies with the provisions spelled
out in the Security Council statement," said Margelov. But analysts have
warned that Russia's interests in Syria are too important for it to
allow Western and regional powers to independently dictate the
battle-scarred nation's fate.
Russia not only sells billions of dollars in arms to Syria but also
relies on Damascus to lobby its interests in a region where Moscow has
lost much of its influence in recent years.
Margelov echoed earlier comments by Lavrov, urging Assad to "urgently
correct the numerous mistakes that he in Russia's official opinion has
But no Russian official has gone so far as to say that Assad has lost
his legitimacy a stance taken by most Western powers since last year.
"Assad's position is difficult," one Kremlin official told Interfax
on Friday. "I do not know whether he has prospects or not. But no one is
predicting another 10 years in power for him."
The dramatic shift in tone but persistent refusal to join
international calls for Assad to go means that "Russia is not wedded to
this regime," said Maxim Yusin, foreign affairs correspondent of the
daily newspaper Kommersant.
"Russia's main goal is to make sure that Assad's opponents do not
grab all the power this would see Russia lose everything it has in
Syria," said Yusin. "Annan's visit should tell us what Russia is willing
to do should Assad not listen on this occasion."
Russia's immediate plans include a meeting next week with members of
a moderate opposition group called the National Coordination Committee
for Democratic Change in Syria.
The alliance, which has previously refused to join the Syrian
National Council's calls for urgent international intervention, appears
to be viewed more favourably by the Kremlin.
"We think this organisation is no less and probably more influential
than the Syrian National Council," said Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail