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Michael Ross: The road to success in Syria lies through compromise with Russia (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) 06/06/12)Source: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/06/05/michael-ross-the-road-to-success-in-syria-lies-through-compromise-with-russia/ NATIONAL POST NATIONAL POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
The key to ensuring that the situation in Syria doesnít devolve into a scenario where Iran emerges as the regional winner in a post-Assad end-game, lies not with the UN, U.S. or EU, but with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a summit in Beijing next week. The meeting is ostensibly tied to diplomatic efforts aimed at curtailing Iranís nuclear ambitions, but to even consider that Syria wonít be at the top of the agenda is to ignore Iranís latest regional chess move.

The Cold War isnít quite over yet and I highly recommend to anyone interested in reading exactly how much of it still exists and what is actually going on should examine Edward Lucasí insightful and well- crafted book, Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West. Despite being bereft of a communist ideology, Russia still has its own agenda and it is in the recognition of this fact that the west has to understand Russiaís geopolitical posture in the Near East.

First and foremost, the west needs to recognize that despite Russiaís involvement in Syriaís current strife, Russia and Iranís interests in the region are far from remotely corresponding. Russia should be very wary of Iranís potential to become an emboldened nuclear-armed Islamic Republic sitting on its southern borders. Russia should also be very concerned with Iranís Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) as it makes furtive forays into Russiaís Muslim majority border regions and while Moscow no doubt enjoys some of the difficulties Iran poses to its western rivals, Iran has designs of its own that very much contest Russiaís interests as much as they do the U.S. and EU.

The key to solving Syria (and Iran) lies in understanding what Russia wants and how compromises can be reached that meet Russiaís needs as well as safeguarding western interests in the region. Russia wants a foothold in the Mediterranean and this has been consistently provided till now by the regime in Damascus. While there may be strategic reasons to deny Russia access to the ports of Lattakia and Tartous, the alternative Ė while giving advantage to western navies Ė will not be worth much if Iran fills the Syrian vacuum after the regime eventually crumbles and falls. An Iranian-sponsored replacement regime with control over long-range missiles with non-conventional warheads will constitute a threat that cannot be ignored by Israel. This scenario is nothing less than a formula for yet another Middle East war.

Iran is already planning contingencies for a post-Assad Syria and is making every effort to ensure that its IRGC/MOIS assets in Syria secure Iranís presence regardless of the outcome. The current intensive diplomatic efforts (that include Russia) to reduce the Iranian nuclear threat, should not be hijacked by any Iranian initiative to wed Tehran to Moscow in the discussion about Syriaís future. Iran is extremely weakened by the events in Syria and desperately needs Syria to manage its regional proxies in Hezbollah and HAMAS. Without the Syrian connection, both terrorist entities could find themselves withering on the vine without direct logistical and operational contact from their masters in Tehran.

Russia also needs the West. It has Africa-levels of of HIV infection and in some regions a lower life-expectancy than Bangladesh. Western economies need to work with Russia and China or suffer irreversible set-backs. The major super-powers that were once engaged in ensuring the mutual destruction of the opposing side now have a historic opportunity to oust the Assad regime and simultaneously weaken Iranís menacing aspirations for Near East domination. These are goals that are to the advantage of both sides, but will only be achieved through intense negotiation and painful compromise. The Russians have proven that when push comes to shove, they can be reasoned with so long as they are not humiliated and shut out of world affairs as they were in Libya.

In 1989 with the demise of the Berlin Wall and communism along with it, Ayatollah Khomeini told the Russians: ďI strongly urge that in breaking down the walls of Marxist fantasies you do not fall into the prison of the West and the Great Satan. I openly announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the greatest and most powerful base of the Islamic world, can easily help fill up the ideological vacuum of your system.Ē

Perhaps as a starting point of negotiation, the Russians should be reminded exactly how Iran truly regards them. Russia might then pause and realize that its real friends are actually here in the West. (© 2012 National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. 06/06/12)


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