By Kateryna Brezitska
After the revolution in Tunisia, a path for turmoil was set, and unrest began in the Middle East. When it hit Syria last year in March, a protest occurred in a small southern town after a group of students that had expressed anti-government sentiments were tortured. In response to the protest, the government picked up a heavy hand and problems began. The opposite of what authorities expected occurred – more and more protests began popping up all over the country with increasing force.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s response was to use tanks, open fire on civilian demonstrators, and to lift emergency law after forty-eight years of enactment which granted the government sweeping authority to suspend constitutional rights. In months, the conflict has reached its peak and thousands lay dead. For many of those that have survived thus far, water and electricity have been shut off and food has been restricted.
Last December, the United Nations began considering Syria on the verge of a civil war as the uprising demanded the resignation of al-Assad and the overthrow of the entire government with the newly formed Syrian National Council.
In response, the Arab and Western United Nations drafted a resolution to help in the conflict. However, in the beginning of February 2012, this resolution was vetoed by both China and Russia. After this, the world began lashing out against the two countries repeatedly. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Russia and China’s actions and called the entire situation a “travesty”. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe used the words “moral stain” in regards to the events. UK Foreign Secretary Hague said the vetoes were a mistake and that Russia and China were “turning their backs on the Arab world”.
However, Russia and China should not be blamed for their actions. In fact, I believe they acted correctly. The images the United States and other Western powers are pushing in the media are of two countries that simply do not care about the conflict in Syria and have done nothing for it. This is not the case.
On December 15, 2011, Russia and China themselves proposed a Security Council resolution condemning the violence “by all parties, including disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities”. Even after NATO said it had no intention of taking any action regards to Syria after it closed its seven-month campaign in Libya, Russia and China did not let this deter them. They proposed their own resolution, thinking it would be a basis for negotiations. Further, they updated their proposed resolution submitted months prior and raised new concerns such as the illegal supply of weapons in Syria.
However, a month later, a second resolution reached the table. It was drafted by the Arab and Western powers. In contrast to the one proposed by Russia and China, it did not rule out military intervention. Russia made its stance very clear. It would not agree to the current form of the draft; it would also continue to support its own resolution and negotiations.
China stated that in midst of sanctions imposed on Syria by the United States, the European Union, the Arab League, and Turkey, some time was needed to further assess the situation. China did not want history to repeat itself and referenced rash actions to “solve” a crisis in faulty campaigns in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Further, China also stated they fully support the cessation of violence but do not agree with the text of the resolution which sends conflicting signals to both sides.
Both Russia and China made it clear they feel like being military involved is not a good option at the present moment. I find it surprising that coming out from just finishing a war, the US is so eager to get so heavily involved in another conflict.
To add, Russia has not just been sitting around doing nothing. It was announced that the Syrian government had agreed to bilateral talks with the opposition, to be mediated by Russia and to take place in Moscow. The opposition, however, rejected the initiation.
Russia and China are trying to help in the best way they can – through negotiation and not making rash moves that can potentially make the situation worse. They are being misrepresented in the media with an uneven image of the bigger picture.