Middle East // Analysis

01 february 2016

What should Russia do to Solve the Syrian Crisis?

Andrey Kortunov Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, RIAC member
REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

2016 is a year that holds more hope to make progress on Syria than any of the five years since this awful conflict began. However, the international community, and Russia, must face up to this global challenge.

A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Russia has in the past signed up to resolutions calling for cross-border access to aid convoys and an end to sieges across Syria. Tragically, recent events have shown that these resolutions have not been honored by parties to the conflict.

Today, there are roughly 450,000 Syrians living in besieged areas across Syria. Harrowing episodes of starvation and death emerging from the towns of Madaya, Kefraya and Foua this month serve yet another reminder of the horrific plight of those trapped inside Syria. It is hardly a surprise that so many attempt to flee - and 4.6 million - have already done so.

An international humanitarian response is currently under way to provide relief to besieged communities. Russia, for its part, has joined international efforts by deploying its air force to carry out humanitarian operations aimed at delivering food and emergency supplies to areas besieged by ISIL terrorists. Russia’s efforts include donations to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN Refugee Agency, the UN Development Program and other international agencies. The Russian Emergencies Ministry has made over 30 flights to Syria and neighboring Lebanon and Jordan since January 2013, delivering over 600 tons of humanitarian cargo for the Syrian victims of the ongoing conflict and confrontation in light of the fight against international terrorism. Last year only, in response to requests from Damascus, Moscow delivered of 100,000 tons of wheat to Syria.

At a diplomatic level, Russia has been actively involved in negotiations, which began in Vienna last year to bring about a political resolution to the conflict. In its role as a permanent member of the United Nations, it further ensured the passage of a milestone UN resolution endorsing the principles of Vienna and laying down the foundation for the peace process. Moscow has always supported an inclusive approach to the Syrian settlement, trying to promote various forms of the inter-Syrian dialogue.  

While these developments are noteworthy, they are by no means enough. We have seen flagrant violations of UN resolutions to protect Syrian civilians, lapses in negotiations attempting to bring a political resolution to the conflict and indifference, even downright hostility, from the international community to support the roughly four million refugees that the war has created.

What else should Russia do to solve the Syrian crisis and help Syrians survive?

Next week’s Syria Donors’ Conference in London brings together world leaders, the private sector, civil society and development banks to raise significant funds to meet the needs of Syrians. It will present Russia an unprecedented to contribute to the creation of a coordinated, bold and holistic response to the ongoing crisis in Syria and the region.

A plan to foster economic growth and stability wherever Syrians are is desperately needed: not just the continuing drip feed of humanitarian aid, but a coordinated and hugely ambitious approach that will shift gear on how we tackle the overspill of Syria’s crisis that has engulfed the whole region. Our government is attending the London Conference and must join and lead others to help Syrians take their first tentative steps towards recovery and reconstruction.

Nevertheless, it will not be enough simply to pledge more money, though this is urgently needed. We must also pledge to help draft a detailed plan to help Syria’s neighbours in their efforts to host refugees, encourage growth and prevent further instability across the region. Yes, we must ensure that aid is regular, and predictable, and that it paves the way for rehabilitation and reconstruction once the war is over. We must invest in schooling for all Syrian refugees by the next school year and support small businesses and foster local entrepreneurialism and innovation, which helps generate job opportunities.

The London Conference is merely a curtain raiser for a year of international action on the crisis happening in Geneva, Vienna, Riyadh and elsewhere. It will set the tone for that action: it must be where the Russian government and others in attendance set their ambition.

Moreover, a long-term economic and social development program is needed for the whole Middle East region including reducing its current dependence on energy export, launching major investments into basic infrastructure, creating new employment opportunities, promoting innovation and unlashing the creative potential of local communities. Without a new development strategy implemented, the region will continue to remain a source of security concerns and challenges for the whole world, Russia including. 

We also need to stay engaged diplomatically, and for the long term, otherwise Russia will continue to be embroiled in a war that is costing its economy. Russia must lead others to maintain pressure and momentum and ensure that parties reach agreement on a ceasefire and that the peace negotiations that begin in Geneva next week do not fail.

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Andrey Kortunov, “What should Russia do to Solve the Syrian Crisis?,” Russian International Affairs Council, 01 February 2016, http://russiancouncil.ru/en/inner/?id_4=7185

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