Russian arms ship turned away from Syria. President Putin’s first misstep (DEBKAfile) Exclusive Report 05/29/12 11:05 AM (GMT+02:00)
Incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin, after taking stock of his
first days of his third presidency, concluded that Moscow’s handling
of the al-Houla massacre and Syria’s ongoing collapse into civil war
will go down as a Russian foreign policy failure. He personally comes
out of the policy as the patron of a bloodthirsty tyrant.
The Kremlin first tried presenting the slaughter of 108 people Friday
and Saturday, among them 49 children and 34 women, as the work of
unknown non-military bands, partly corroborating the Assad regime’s
claim of terrorism.
This line was quickly abandoned and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
was told Monday, May 28, to assign responsibility to “two sides” at
his joint news conference in Moscow with British Foreign Secretary
But the information coming out of the Houla disaster area knocked
that line on the head too: It turned out that the massacre was
perpetrated by the town’s Alawites. Their victims were taken
unprepared for their neighbors’ attacks, unlike the Sunni Muslims of
Homs, Hama and Idlib and similarly mixed community towns, and
mercilessly slaughtered in their homes by rampaging Alawites wielding
knives, shot guns and pistols.
Syria has thousands of small and large mixed towns and villages
divided by barricades manned by local militias – some for and some
against Assad. The Houla massacre is therefore apt to be repeated
across the country, plunging it into a full-blown civil and sectarian
Moscow is beginning to fear that Russia may be stigmatized as an
accessory to this horror - and especially the foreign policy choices
made by the new president.
Lavrov tried to save his government’s reputation by declaring out of
the blue that Moscow no longer backs Bashar Assad and his regime and
fully endorses the UN envoy Kofi Annan’s mission.
Annan was back in Damascus Tuesday holding talks with the Syrian
ruler. It his hard to see how he can salvage even a vestige of his
mission when the Syrian ruler has broken every commitment he made
from the word go a month ago.
The other step decided by the Kremlin was to quietly order the
Russian arms ship Professor Katsman to stop unloading its cargo at
the Syrian port of Tartus, sail west and wait for fresh orders after
the furor dies down. President Putin is clearly floundering before
deciding on his next steps with regard to Syria and calculating to
the last figure the cost of supplying the world’s most hated despot
with arms and spreading a diplomatic net under his feet. (Copyright
2000-2012 DEBKAfile. 05/29/12)
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