EU deserves the title of the Syrian affair merchandiser

Kristalina Georgieva, Member of the European Commission in charge of International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, on the left, received Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. They then visited the European Emergency Response Centre, which opened in May 2013, in the presence of Peter Billing, Deputy Head of the Unit "Crisis response" of the DG "Humanitarian aid and civil protection" (ECHO) of the EC, on the right. (EC Audiovisual Services).

Kristalina Georgieva, Member of the European Commission in charge of International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, on the left, received Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. They then visited the European Emergency Response Centre, which opened in May 2013, in the presence of Peter Billing, Deputy Head of the Unit “Crisis response” of the DG “Humanitarian aid and civil protection” (ECHO) of the EC, on the right. (EC Audiovisual Services).

With the US-Russian agreement on chemical weapons in Syria the world economy and more so Europe avoided a new blow, at a time when the resumption of business activities, especially in the European south, prove to be more fragile than expected. There is no doubt that this development defused the tensions which run high after the threats for a US military hit against Damascus. On top of that it also appears that this agreement could constitute the base for a lasting arrangement in the Middle East, securing the normal flow of oil towards Europe. In this context even the dreadful eventuality of a full civil war in Egypt becomes now more distant. Europe, Russia and the US will be more restricted in meddling with the internal affairs of Egypt.

As it turned out the European Sting was a rare exception in English language media not believing from the very beginning that the US will bomb Syria at the end. On 2 September the Sting wrote “before the American missiles are fired the US and Russia must have come to an agreement about the whole Syrian issue. It’s as if in this case the American action is totally confined by Moscow”. On top of that the European Sting writer George Pepper was quite right on 29 August when he insisted that “Russia will resist with all it’s got the US plans for Syria…Russia not only has a lot to lose in Syria but at the same time Moscow has the ability to effectively protect its interests there. The question is up to which point the Kremlin will choose to confront the West militarily”. The conclusion is that Moscow had the political and the military means to effectively contain Washington’s plans for this part of the world.

The European merchandiser

It is very interesting also to follow Europe’s reaction to the US-Russia agreement on the control or probably the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton after welcoming the latest developments, she actually offered that some EU member states could undertake the technical and why not financial ‘contract’ for the control and the possible destruction of the Syrian chemical arsenal! The relevant part of Ashton’s Press release goes like that, “The EU is already the largest financial contributor to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and a number of EU Member States have the technical knowledge necessary to assist in securing sites, and in dismantling and destroying certain chemical agents. In close coordination with its Member States, the EU stands ready to offer further support to the OPCW in carrying out its important and urgent tasks”.

It’s unbelievable how much cash oriented came to be EU’s role in this affair. The strategic game played by Washington and Moscow took place above the European heads of governments and Peoples, with the EU ‘authorities’ in Brussels holding the role of the…merchandiser. The negative vote in the British Parliament blocking London’s military intervention in Syria and Paris’s U turn on this affair weakened the western position. It’s Berlin that wins some points from the Syrian issue not supporting the US position all the way through and thus indirectly backing Russia. The visible strategic economic ties between Berlin and Moscow played here a crucial role.

On the European Union’s side it was also very characteristic that Lithuania, the tiny anti-Russian hard liner EU country holding the rotating Presidency of the European Council, went as far as to misreport an EU foreign Affairs ministers’ decision, in order to make it read closer to the US positions. Vilnius however didn’t manage to influence Europe’s overall stance. Berlin opposed from the very beginning to an American military intervention in Syria and at the end it was followed to this by Paris. London was ‘neutralised’ from the very beginning by the House of Commons. As a result Europe’s position ended up to what Ashton proposed this weekend, that is some EU countries undertake the ‘contract’ of neutralising Damascus chemical arsenal.

Moscow re-emerges

On the other side of the fence Moscow managed to reappear as a very important player in the world’s political and why not military power arena. President Vladimir Putin marked a personal triumph, at least internally. He managed not only to challenge the US political and military supremacy but he effectively reversed the American plans at least for this part of the strategic Middle East region. Russia took the opportunity of a China-Russia controlled security block (the Shanghai Cooperation Organization) gathering in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, to form an anti-western alliance over the Syrian and the wider Middle East issues. Moscow and Beijing governments along with the rulers of Tehran and some other central Asian countries signed a strong statement opposing the US plans for Syria.

There is no question that the way this Syrian affair is heading would have wider repercussions. The sure thing is that Moscow’s position in the power brokering global markets is strengthened. The immediate implications will be felt in Europe, over the frictions between Brussels and Moscow. Be it the Russian gas monopoly or the influence over Ukraine, Moscow will be less accommodating to the west European pressures. However Europe could have paid a dearer price if the Americans had eventually bombed Damascus.

In any case the Syrian population was spared more bloodshed and hopefully the US-Russia agreement contains also closes about the best this country could hope for, that is a partitioning of its soil between the different ethnic and religious groups with political means. After such a devastating civil war it’s impossible for the Bashar al-Assad regime to continue governing the whole place. For one thing the Americans must have secured the semi autonomy of the Kurdish north-east part of the country. As for the US allies in the region, who are rather disappointed with the political solution in Syria, they can now play a political role in the end arrangement. As for Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the US-Russia deal in a positive statement for the region’s future.

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