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Very few international observers are feigning surprise at the outcome of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland as far as the key discussion topic – Syria – was concerned.
One has to admit that the result was close to zero, since no side moved an inch from their previous positions.
The only slight ‘shift’ that occurred was an apparent acquiescence by French President Francois Hollande, to a possible participation by Iran in an eventual Geneva-2 conference, which is expected to bring together all the parties and states involved in the Syrian conflict. “If Iran may be helpful, yes, it will be welcome,” Hollande said.
Before the summit, all three main Western partisans of the armed Syrian opposition – the US, France and Britain – denied that Iran could participate.
But since the projected conference in Geneva, sponsored jointly by the US and Russia, is receding further and further into the future (as the May and June deadlines were missed, there was some talk of August at the G8 summit), the French president’s generosity had a peculiar character which one might expect from a leader known for his ‘budget frugality’.Mr Hollande was actually quite generously inviting Iran to an event that might never take place.
“Yes, unfortunately, the projected Geneva conference is now farther than ever,” commented Joshua Rogin, senior correspondent for national security and politics at the Newsweek magazine. “The summit was rather cold, and the leaders made an impression of confirming the Canadian premier’s statement that it was actually a G7+1 summit.”
Meanwhile, Russia, which had joined the group of seven industrialised nations in 1997, after Russia’s then President Boris Yeltsin attended G7’s summit in Denver, USA, battled all talk of it being isolated.
‘Isolation’, incidentally, was the buzzword for a lot of the mainstream Western press reporting on the summit.
One could not help noticing the overt eagerness of the zealous news reports to spread the comments of the Canadian prime minister Steven Harper about the G7 temporarily replacing the G8 due to a lack of understanding on Syria between the old members and Russia.
“We shall probably inquire from our Canadian colleagues what prompts them to make such statements,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov said in a comment broadcast by the Russian TV channel “Rossiya 24”.
“There can be no talk of a return to the G7,” Ryabkov asserted.
At his press conference after the summit, Putin also stressed that “there were no situations [at the summit] in which Russia would defend its position on Syria alone.”
But even if the G7 is making Russia the object of its frustrations over Mr Assad’s continuance in power in Syria, does being isolated at the G8 mean being isolated in the wider world?
It should be remembered that Russia’s position on Syria at the UN Security Council is being backed by China, which is not being considered a member of the club of “industrialised nations” simply because of the obsolete character of this club’s membership, established back in the mid-1970s.
Since then, a number of new big players appeared at the world stage, including not only Russia, but also other BRICS members – China, Brazil, India, South Africa.
Meanwhile, these countries’ positions on the “humanitarian interventions” (and the recent decisions of the US to send arms to the Syrian rebels and that of France and Britain to recognise Western-backed opposition as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people which look increasingly like another humanitarian intervention) – the BRICS’ position on humanitarian interventions is at least more nuanced than that of G7.
South Africa, for example, openly opposed the Western intervention in Libya, whose new government the participants of the summit in Northern Ireland “praised” and “supported” despite numerous human rights abuses.Russia’s president Vladimir Putin is being deliberately targeted by the media in both the US and the EU for allegedly being the “main backer” of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, although Putin never pronounced Mr Assad’s name during the summit.
The London based Guardian newspaper in its editorial on Tuesday said, “Mr Putin’s sympathy is with the despots, not their people. It should therefore come as no surprise that the G8 leaders had difficulty arriving at even the blandest of statements on Syria.”
Mr Putin’s fault is seen in his refusal to include a provision about the need for Mr Assad “to step down” before a meaningful negotiation on peace in Syria. This, in the view of Newsweek’s Joshua Rogin, made the final declaration of the G8 summit “toothless.”
On the other hand, how can a peace conference between the Syrian government and the opposition take place under the auspices of the US and Russia, if one of the co-sponsors (or both) do not recognise the legitimacy of the Syrian government’s top person and want him “out” before the negotiation starts?
On the issue of arms deliveries to the Syrian opposition, Putin stood firm. “There are many people inside the Syrian opposition, who are very much like the person who killed the British soldier [Lee Rigby in London],” Putin told reporters. “Is it supposed that these people will get arms?”
Despite a lot of anti-Putin rhetoric, it was clear that some of the Western leaders were still undecided on whether to go ahead with arms deliveries to the rebels. For example, Britain’s David Cameron said that he was glad the EU’s embargo on arms deliveries has expired, but that he still “had made no decision on the issue.”
So, in criticising Putin for Russia’s stand on Syria, the Western leaders are probably criticising their own doubts. Or, as some caustic observer would put it, the remnants of their critical thinking.