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It seems, however, that the authors of those reports did not bother asking themselves how the government could manage to stay in power without public support for more than a year, despite the extensive sanctions imposed by its main economic partners. Why did the majority of people vote for the draft constitution proposed by the authorities? Why, after all, have most Syrian soldiers remained loyal to their commanders? If fear is the only explanation, then why did it fail to help other authoritarian rulers?
We have stated many times that Russia is not a defender of the current regime in Damascus and has no political, economic or other reasons for becoming one. We have never been a major trade and economic partner of that country, the government of which has communicated mostly with the capitals of Western European countries.
It is no less clear to us than to others that the main responsibility for the crisis that has swept over the country lies with the Syrian government, that has failed to take the course of reform in due time or draw conclusions from the deep changes unfolding in international relations. This is all true. Yet, there are other facts as well. Syria is a multi-confessional state: in addition to Sunni and Shia Muslims there are Alawites, Orthodox and other Christian confessions, Druzes, and Kurds. Over the last few decades of the secular rule of the Ba’ath party, freedom of conscience has been practiced in Syria, and religious minorities fear that if the regime is broken down this tradition may be interrupted.
When we say that these concerns should be heard and addressed, we are sometimes accused of taking positions amounting to an anti-Sunni and, more generally, anti-Islamic stance. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Russia, people of various confessions, most numerous among them being Orthodox Christians and Muslims, have lived together peacefully for centuries. Our country has never waged colonial wars in the Arab world but has on the contrary continuously supported the independence of Arab nations and their right to independent development. And Russia bears no responsibility for the consequences of colonial rule marked by the changes in social structures that brought about the tensions which still persist.
The point I want to make is different. If some members of society are concerned about potential discrimination on the grounds of religion and national origin, then necessary guarantees should be provided to those people in accordance with generally accepted international humanitarian standards.
Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms has traditionally been, and continues to be, a major problem for the States of the Middle East, and was one of the main causes of the "Arab revolutions".
However, Syria has never ranked low on that list, with its level of civil freedoms immeasurably higher than that of some of the countries who are now trying to give lessons in democracy to Damascus. In one of its recent issues, the French magazine Le Monde Diplomatique presented a chronology of human rights abuses by a big State in the Middle East, which contained, inter alia, the execution of 76 death sentences in 2011 alone, including for those accused of witchcraft. If we truly wish to promote respect for human rights in the Middle East, we must state this goal openly. If we proclaim ending the bloodshed as our primary concern, we should focus precisely on that; in other words, we must press for a ceasefire in the first place, and promote the start of an inclusive all-Syrian dialogue aimed at negotiating a peaceful crisis settlement formula by the Syrians themselves.
Russia has been sending these messages since the first days of unrest in Syria. It was quite clear to us and, I guess, to everyone who has sufficient information on that country, that pressing for an immediate ousting of Bashar al-Assad, contrary to the aspirations of a considerable segment of Syrian society that still relies on this regime for its security and well-being, would mean plunging Syria into a protracted and bloody civil war. Responsible external actors should help Syrians avoid that scenario and bring about evolutionary rather than revolutionary reform of the Syrian political system through a national dialogue rather than by means of coercion from the outside.