Commentary Magazine


Russia’s Diplomacy Embarrasses the World

Perhaps the only optimistic note we can take out of Russia’s “diplomatic initiative” in Syria is that everyone outside those two countries sees it for the cynical opportunism and obnoxious grandstanding that it is.

As I wrote yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit with Bashar al-Assad was not only dismissive of the ongoing slaughter of the Syrian people but a transparent attempt to buy time for Vladimir Putin. Today, the New York Times reports that when asked about the Russian farce, world leaders tried their best not to laugh in reporters’ faces:

In Paris, the French foreign minster, Alain Juppé, called the Syrian promises of talks “manipulation,” while in London, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said he had “very little confidence” in Russia’s initiative.

Adding to the turmoil, Turkey, a major regional player neighboring Syria, was said to be weighing its own initiative toward securing a broad consensus on ending the violence. A day after the Syria-Russia talks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was planning to discuss the crisis by phone with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, according to the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Welcome to a multipolar world. You can sense the frustration of American leaders as well, by the way. Susan Rice, our ambassador to the United Nations, seems to be discovering her inner John Bolton. When Russia and China vetoed a finger-wagging resolution on Syria, she declared herself “disgusted” that “members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant.” Asked last night on CNN what her message to Assad is, she answered: “Your days are numbered.”

Not if the Russians have anything to say about it. Lavrov could have at least asked Assad to take a day off from the annihilation of innocents while Lavrov was on an official state visit to Damascus. But why? Against the backdrop of the massacres, Lavrov put out a statement essentially blaming the protesters for the violence. Why not? Who is going to do anything about it?

On January 23, Princeton’s Anne-Marie Slaughter suggested it might be time to intervene in Syria. Last week, Georgetown’s Daniel Byman threw his support behind intervention. Rice may have found her inner Bolton, but academia seems to have found its inner Tony Blair. That the Turks took one look at Russia’s “diplomacy” and said maybe we ought to do this ourselves tells you much about the inherent chaos of these popular uprisings. It has helped the credibility of the protesters not to have visible leaders who could be targeted or discredited, but a leaderless revolution often gets initial results and then leaves the question hanging in the air: What happens now?

Russia has now humiliated the international community twice in the past week, all in the service of murderous tyranny. We may not be out of diplomatic options, but the West better find someone other than Russia to conduct that diplomacy.