While the death toll in Syria keeps mounting and Western pressure is increasing, Russia and China have reinforced their opposition to any foreign intervention and continue to resist appeals for tougher sanctions against Syria. This was reaffirmed during Putin’s three-day visit to China to attend a security meeting. According to Russia and China, the international community should keep supporting the Arab League and Kofi Annan’s peace plan, as this is the only way forward to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In a joint-statement, the two heads of government announced that "both sides firmly oppose any attempt to resolve the Syrian crisis through foreign military intervention". They also both opposed forced 'regime change' facilitated through measures taken at the U.N. Security Council and other venues.
However, after the latest events some Western countries are running out of patience and have made clear that they are willing to take the risk and intervene if necessary to stop the violence. It doesn’t surprise me that the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, affirmed that the West might be forced to intervene in Syria even without UN approval. It has happened before. Even French President Francois Hollande, who has always maintained a more peaceful stance on the conflict, said that if the situation keeps deteriorating, military intervention could not ‘be ruled out’. It is atrocities like Houla, where 108 people, including 49 children, were brutally killed that can prompt foreign intervention. Since the massacre took place, many Western countries have expelled their Syrian diplomats and in the country the Syrian rebels have abandoned the ceasefire. This comes on top of the increasing presence of rebel and extremist groups on the ground.
If Russia and China are so against foreign intervention, they should put more pressure on Damascus to halt the violence and make Annan’s plan work. It is in their interest. Russia is particularly concerned about the consequences of having an Islamic government that could affect its volatile North Caucasus; while China fears it could affect its troubled regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. If the West decides to go ahead and act on its own, the consequences will be devastating for the entire region. If there is military intervention, Syria’s alliance with Iran will escalate the conflict dragging in other external players, such us Israel or Saudi, which will use Syria to fight their own wars.
In the meantime, while Assad benefits from Russia and China's protection, more innocent people keep dying. With the situation deteriorating rapidly and Annan’s plan proving insufficient, more pressure will be needed on the Russian and Chinese governments. We will have to wait and see what happens in the next few weeks and whether Russia or China will change strategy or decide to keep having such a difficult partner.
Annan’s six-point plan
1. Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people
2. End to violence by all sides; army troops to stop using heavy weapons and withdraw to barracks
3. Parties to allow humanitarian aid
4. Authorities to free detainees
5. Authorities to ensure freedom of movement for journalists
6. Authorities to allow peaceful demonstrations