Russia will only support Annan's plan if it doesn't stipulate the form of a unity government, yet the opposition demand the exclusion of Assad's inner circle.
Kofi Annan’s latest proposal in the floundering Syrian peace process is a transitional national unity government, comprised of current regime members alongside leading opposition figures.
According to al-Jazeera, the attempt at political conciliation implicitly rules out Assad’s personal involvement. One UN diplomat, who spoke to the channel, said:
“The language of Annan’s plan suggests that Assad could be excluded, but also that certain opposition figures could be ruled out.”
Bloomberg, who’ve seen a draft of Annan’s blueprint, have more on the story:
“The Annan document…says a transitional government may include members of Assad’s government and opposition and other groups, although not ‘those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation.’
According to a U.S. official, who was briefed on Annan’s plan, representatives of both the regime and the opposition could veto proposed members of a national unity government.”
Sounds like a plan, perhaps, but two problems have already emerged. The first relates to Russia. Moscow insists that its opposition to NATO military intervention in the crisis does not equate to support for Assad (the ongoing controversy over a Russian shipment of revamped Mi-25 attack helicopters heading for Syria notwithstanding).
As such, it has been widely understood that the Russians were open to the possibility of a Syrian unity government sans Assad: as of today, they are understood to actively endorse Annan’s proposals. Nonetheless, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, sounded a cautionary note earlier:
“We do not support and cannot support any kind of meddling from outside, the imposition of recipes. This applies to the fate of Bashar al-Assad. It, this fate, must be decided by the Syrians, the Syrian people themselves.”
Lavrov’s words, and the Russians’ approval of the idea of a unity government, make it quite clear that Moscow believes Assad has to go: according to Bloomberg, Russia effectively withdrew her support for Assad when his violent crackdown on the opposition spiralled out of control. This, of course, represents progress.
However, the Russians’ priority is clearly achieving the smoothest possible transition of power in one of the few Middle Eastern countries still firmly within their sphere of influence. In this respect, they consider political interference from the West to be just as unacceptable as military intervention.
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Yet this places the conciliatory onus on Assad’s regime and the opposition, and the latter have already insisted that Annan’s plan go much further in proscribing regime members’ involvement in the hypothetical new government.
Khalid Saleh, a spokesperson for the Syrian National Council, made clear that Assad’s departure is in itself insufficient for progress:
“We are still not very clear on the details of this unity government. If the implication is that Assad would remain in power, or the gangs around him will still be involved, the forces of the revolution on the ground, which matters the most, have made it very clear that this is not an acceptable proposition.
This would also not be acceptable to the SNC.
If Assad and the people who have blood on their hands are stepping aside and being held accountable, this is definitely something we would at least consider.
Getting rid of Assad is not enough. We have a group of people that surround him that directs the military operations that committed atrocities against civilians. It is definitely not just about Assad by himself.”
In other words, the peace process is stuck. The Russians endorse the peace plan so long as it does not stipulate political particulars; the Syrian opposition, on the other hand, insist that this is precisely what Annan must do.
Satisfying them both may prove impossible, yet if either withdraws their support, Annan’s plan will, once again, be as good as dead.