By B Raman
The veto by Russia and China of a resolution in the UN Security Council that called upon Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down in the face of the persisting movement against his regime is not based on an objective assessment of the ground situation in Syria.
Rather, it is based on subjective apprehensions of the implications for the present leaderships in Russia and China in the event that street movements in the Arab countries succeed with external support.
The action of the Western powers in pressing for a vote on the resolution, which enjoyed the expected support of the Arab League and the surprise support of India and Pakistan, despite the near-certainty of a Russian-Chinese veto was motivated by two factors.
The first factor was the need to keep the anti-Assad movement in Syria alive despite the brutal suppression by the regime by conveying to it a message of international solidarity.
The second factor was the desire to convey a message of hope to dissident elements in Russia who oppose Vladimir Putin and the dissident elements in China who oppose the Communist Party of China that they too could one day benefit from similar international solidarity if they kept their movements against the governments in Moscow and Beijing alive.
The domestic situation in Russia is showing signs of turbulence in the face of allegations that call into question the fairness and legality of the recent elections to the Parliament. In China, Tibetan and Uighur opposition to the policies of the Chinese government has been gathering strength and assuming a violent form. Moreover, economic difficulties are leading to instances of defiance of governmental and party authority even from the majority Han elements in the coastal areas.
It would be premature to talk of a united anti-regime movement in Russia and China, but there are definitely reports of the emergence of multiple pockets of dissidence against both the regimes. It is important for the West to ensure that these dissident pockets and scattered protest movements do not lose hope in the face of the suppression by the regimes.
The West views the ground situation in Syria from the immediate perspective of bringing into power a new regime without a messy military intervention as one saw in Iraq and Libya and from the medium and long-term perspective of encouraging the growth of dissidence in Russia and China.
The determined veto of Russia and China on Syria is an indication of their fear that regime change through international solidarity with domestic protest movements could one day endanger their own regimes.
The problem is that the Assad regime cannot be saved. It is only a question of time before it falls due to the protest movement.The isolation of Russia and China and the widespread criticism of their veto would convey oxygen to the dissident movements in Russia and China too.
India did well in coming to terms with the reality and in supporting the resolution. It keeps India on the side of the Syrian people fighting against a repressive regime. So long as external military intervention is not involved, there is no reason why India should remain neutral.
Pakistan’s support for the resolution despite Chinese opposition to it is significant. It is a welcome initiative by the civilian government in Islamabad not to put its eggs in the Chinese basket in the face of the popular anti-regime movements across the region.
B Raman is Additional Secretary (Retired) in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is currently Director of the Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai; and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Republished with permission from the Chennai Centre for China Studies.