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Friday, September 18, 2015

Is Assad Putin's puppet and did Russia offer him up in 2012?

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The family of Rifaat Yonus Al-Taleb Al-Zoobi was still unable to retrieve his body from Izaraa Hospital, Jeza, Syria on 22 February 2012, when UN Envoy Martti Ahtisaari said Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin made him an offer the world shouldn't have refused, a Russian proposal in which "Bashar al-Assad, could step down as part of a peace deal." Al-Zoobi had been shot by security forces a day earlier and they were refusing to release the body until his relatives signed a statement saying he was killed by armed militias, according to the Local Coordinating Committees in Syria [LCC] report for that day. The LCC reported about other events on the ground on that very historic day when its now being said that the Russians offered peace in Syria and the Americans refused it.
Demonstration at the Faculty of Informatics in Aleppo University | 22 Feb 2012

At Aleppo University, a student demonstration demanding the ouster of the regime was met with tear gas and gunfire coming from the Ba’ath Party Headquarters. A demonstration in the Bahsa area of Damascus was attacked by security forces and shabiha. In Idlib Khan Sheikhoun, Mohammad Fajr Islam, and Khalil Kurdi were killed during a shelling of the city. Other civilians were injured. Daraa, Basr Hareer was shelled with heavy smoke seen north and west of the city. A house was destroyed in the Karm Alzaitoun neighborhood of Homs by mortar bombs.

Morning demo in KafarNabodah in Hama | 22 Feb 2012

Mezzeh, Damascus saw a campaign of arrests and raids affecting dozens. In Baqras, Deir Ezzor the raids were accompanied a campaign of destruction and looting. In Tafas, Daraa security forces and shabiha stormed Hal Market, destroyed most of the goods and arrested 800. In the Damascus suburbs of Kisweh and Gharbi security forces and shabiha waged "raid and search" operations using vehicles equipped with machine guns. In Hirak, Daraa three tanks entered the city from the eastern entrance while the sound of explosions was heard in Basar Hareer. Banyas, Bayda saw a massive turnout of security forces in the village square and near the school to prevent a student demonstration.

Student’s demo in Lattamnah, Hama | 22 Feb 2012

Qosair, Homs was assaulted with violent shelling with mortar shells, rocket shells, and heavy machine guns. In Kafar Al-Ton, Hama the security forces evacuated all Assad supporters before they shelled the city. The Baba Amr neighborhood of Jobar, Homs endured its fifth consecutive day of the regime blocking food and water and its 19th consecutive day of shelling.

Funeral of the martyr Mohamad Hijazy in Qosair, Homs | 22 Feb 2012

In Raqqa, the Syrian army sent reinforcements with heavy machine-guns after activists called for massive demonstrations in the city tomorrow, while the Damascus suburb of Harasta bore witness to open armed struggle between regime forces and recently defected SAA soldiers supported by the Free Syrian Army.

Idlib: Demo in Hass | 22 Feb 2012

In all, 35 citizens were killed on 22 February 2012 including a French journalist, an American journalist and a Kurdish leader.  It was a very light day considering the killing spree the regime was on at the time. 101 Syrians, including 10 children had been killed on the day before, 21 February 2012, and 101, including 14 children were killed on the next day, 23 February 2012.

Daraa: Harak: Regime Forces Storming the Town and Firing Randomly | 22 Feb 2012

Far from this very grave reality in Syria, an offer of peace was made, it is now being said, in the glass towers of the United Nations offices in New York City, by the Russian ambassador to the Western powers with Martti Ahtisaari, a senior UN negotiator as the messenger. The Guardian broke the story on Tuesday, although its really isn't a new story, Martti Ahtisaari told it to YLE in August 2012 [Google translate]. This is the Guardian report.
West 'ignored Russian offer in 2012 to have Syria's Assad step aside'

15 September 2015
Julian Borger and Bastien Inzaurralde
Russia proposed more than three years ago that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, could step down as part of a peace deal, according to a senior negotiator involved in back-channel discussions at the time.

Former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari said western powers failed to seize on the proposal. More...
It is not surprising that the "anti-imperialist" Left and other Assad supporters have jumped all over this story as proof that the US is behind the carnage in Syria. David Swanson came out with What if Americans Had Known in 2013 that U.S. rejected Syria Deal in 2012? the same day, saying:
But, according to Ahtisaari, the United States was so confident that Assad would soon be violently overthrown that it rejected the proposal.

The catastrophic Syrian civil war since 2012 has followed U.S. adherence to actual U.S. policy in which peaceful compromise is usually the last resort.
How do the facts on the ground support David Swanson's contention that regime supporters were looking for a "peaceful compromise" on 22 February 2012?
Thursday Counterpunch comes out with the Hidden History of Syria Regime Collapse Strategy Begins to Emerge by Peter Lee, which uses this "missed opportunity" to blame the West for the carnage in Syria since then:
As the Guardian ruefully points out, most of the quarter-million fatalities and millions of refugees were generated after early 2012. The total death toll in early 2012 was…less than 10,000.
Almost no one in the "anti-imperialist" crowd seems to be claiming that a quarter-million Syrians were killed by US agents or US supplied weapons directly. Until recently, only Assad's planes have been bombing in Syria, and even now, only Assad's air strikes are designed to maximize civilian causalities. They know that Assad has done most of the killing, but they seem to accept the carnage created by his methods as legitimate and necessary for his defense, and blame the deaths on those trying to overthrow him. They don't deny that Bashar al-Assad is guilty of war crimes. They just think he still belongs in government and not in prison. But then most of them, like Peter Lee, never thought much of the democracy movement to begin with. Four months before the 22 February mass protests documented above were to take place, he wrote:
The democratic revolution ship has sailed. What’s going on today is a foreign-supported insurrection.
He doesn't say where the democratic revolution ship sailed off to, or what happened to all the people on board, but does use twisted history to make his point:
The facts that the domestic insurrection had failed in late 2011 (with the crushing of resistance in Homs) and ...
If the resistance in Homs had been crushed in late 2011, what are we to make of Assad's 2012 Homs offensive, which began in February 2012 and was ended by a UN brokered cease fire in April? Was Assad just beating a dead horse? These "anti-imperialists" have no intellectual honesty what-so-ever. Always check their "facts" elsewhere when you read Counterpunch.

The "alternate reality" of western perceptions about the Syrian Revolution

It is important that this story took place far from the day to day realities of the struggle in Syria because its underlying assumption is that what is really going on in Syria is a proxy war between the "West" and Russian. Other than the promise of Assad leaving, the Syrians on either side play no role in this story.

The view that Assad's opponents are instruments of Western imperialism is one that is promoted by the Assad regime and long popular among his "anti-imperialist" supporters, so it is not surprising that they believe that the three Western leaders the Russian message was directed to have the power to stop those fighting Assad. What is surprising is that they have been so quick to embrace a story that implies that Assad is not really the sovereign ruler of Syria that they claim. If the Russians have the power to determine what he does, he is their puppet. In order to believe the headline that the West 'ignored Russian offer in 2012 to have Syria's Assad step aside' you have to believe A) that the Russians were actually in a position to deliver on their promise, i.e., they actually had the power to make Assad step aside, and B) The offer was directed at those that had the power to speak for the Syrian opposition.

Besides which, if the Russians had such control over Assad, they should have been asked to stay his horrific and one-sided violence. Short of Assad stepping aside, a halt to wanton attacks on civilian targets and the wholesale machine gunning of peaceful protesters, would have done wonders for the peace process. On the other hand, if the Russians were unwilling or unable to have Assad tamp down the violence before he stepped aside, why should the opposition believe that he will ever be made to step aside?

The main problem with this story is that its chauvinist view of the Syrian civil war as a proxy war is at odds with the reality on the ground. The Assad regime is supported by the Russians and Iranians, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias, but its main power base is in Syria. His opposition is also "home grown," grown out of the 40 years of brutality this regime has heaped upon its people. They get their weapons from defectors, or raiding army stores. They also have foreign backers, including Arab nationalists, but they march to their own various drummers. This peace offering was bogus in the first place because those involved were not the ones doing the direct fighting, so they weren't the ones that could make the peace.

There are other problems with the story. So far it rests on the word of one man. Churkin has refused to confirm it, and beyond the question of whether Putin had the power to determine if Assad would stay or go, there is the question of whether Churkin really had the power to speak for Putin. Sir John Jenkins – a former director of the Middle East department of the UK’s Foreign Office who was preparing to take up the post of ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the first half of 2012 – said "I would have replied I wanted to hear it from [President Vladimir] Putin too before I could take it seriously." In any case, when the UN sponsored peace talks later took place in Geneva in June, this secret offer to have Assad step down was nowhere to be found.

Now, if we look at Churkin's offer in more detail, we find that it had three parts:
“He said three things: One – we should not give arms to the opposition. Two – we should get a dialogue going between the opposition and Assad straight away. Three – we should find an elegant way for Assad to step aside.”
So, to break it down, he is saying:
1) Embargo weapons to only one side of the conflict, and not the side that has and uses the most weapons. In February 2012, the armed response of the opposition was in its early stages of development. They didn't have many arms and what they did have they got by stealing them from the Syrian government. Churkin's view that "we should not give arms to the opposition" may have promoted their propaganda line that Assad's opposition was a creation of the West, but the reality was that almost nobody was giving arms to the opposition already. Opposition arms certainly weren't the major obstacle to peace in the Spring of 2012. Remember the peace was first broken in the Spring of 2011 when the opposition was massive peaceful protests. They acquired weapons only after being shot at.

2) We should have talks. Dialogue is generally a good thing except Churkin wants to use a one-sided arms embargo to force Assad's opposition to negotiate on his terms. While the so-called US support for the Free Syrian Army is mostly illusionary, the Russian support for the Assad regime fills transport planes everyday, and yet this "peace offering" contained no hint that Moscow was willing to use its hand on Assad's vital supply line to force him to back off of his slaughter of civilians.

3) Make plans for Assad to give up power eventually. This tyrant is murdering children in their beds, dropping barrel-bombs on breadlines, and having live rats stuffed up women's vaginas as torture, and the Syrian people are expected to allow all that and more to continue for an indefinite period while the Great Powers "find an elegant way for Assad to step aside.” Such a Deal!

This is the "Peace Deal" that David Swanson and others are complaining was rejected by the West in 2012.

Finally there is the interesting question of why this is suddenly "BREAKING NEWS." Just as this alleged "peace offering" took place at the time of Assad's murderous escalation of the violence known as the 2012 Homs offensive, which began with the Siege of Homs in early February 2012, the current story about this "missed opportunity" comes as Assad is once again greatly escalating the slaughter, this time in a last desperate effort to preserve his dictatorship, and Russia is greatly increasing its foreign intervention.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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