Syria: On sanctions – Russian spoiler, Syrian blunder, impotent USA and EU (?)

Today as protesters in Syria are getting ready to take to the streets in support for the besieged people of Dar’a United Nations security council failed. In a move that only can be seen as payback to USA, France and the UK for UNSCR resolution 1973/2011 on Libya where Russia, it turned out was ‘screwed with their pants on’, blocked a weak statement condemning the violence of the regime. Russia is also betting on the fact that the Syrian regime will survive, but will be weakened both by the internal dissent and the reaction and possible isolation from USA and the EU. In this vacuum Russia will be able to extend its influence over Syria. Russia citing that the violence in Syria did not amount to “a threat against international peace and security”. Therefore there was no grounds for any international action.

This is of course wrong. Just as an example –  because the violence has not spread beyond Syria does not mean that the fighting in a city such as Dar’a, a city bordering Jordan and Baniyas bordering Lebanon does not constitute “…a threat against international peace and security”. What we are talking about is connections through tribe, clan and family that extended beyond the borders of Syria to neighbouring countries. The move by Syria to close its borders to Jordan is an indications the importance of this. What is happening in Syria is a destabilising factor for Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and Iraq.

The Syrian regime has by its own admissions bared itself to the Security Council and an international investigation, that could be instigated by the coming emergency meeting of the Human Rights Council. The blunder I am refering is the numerous statements made by the regime that the protests are a result of a conspiracy directed from/by foreign states. Does this not sound very much like a “threat against international peace and security”? This is a multiple blunder by the Syrian regime. First they concocted a claim of a foreign hatched conspiracy controlling demonstrators, statements similar as echoed by Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh and Qaddafi, enraging the people in Dar’a. As if they were agents of Israel, Saudi Arabia and/or USA. As if their rage was not true and not based on the poverty, drought, local corruption and the gorging and plunder of Syria by ‘the king’, Rami Makhluf. Such an investigation if it where to take place, would most likely lay bare that the Syrian regime is complicit in the killing of its own citizens.

So far USA is the only country to unilaterally impose sanctions against Syria for the violence against protesters. This is big, right? No, not at all. Symbolically, yes.  But lets not forget that USA has had sanctions against Syria since 2004. These new targeted sanctions will mean little. And as a spokesperson from the administration framed it – the Syrian economy is that of the city of Pittsburgh. Not much to influence, especially since the USA – Syria trade is miniscule.

Now there is an actor who wields a big, big (possible) sanction stick. We are talking about EU, Syria’s largest trading partner with 23% of the Syrian trade. In 2009 the total export from Syria to the EU amounted to 2,3 billion €. If EU would like they could put the squeeze in Syria, either by targeted sanctions freezing bank accounts for high level officials, blocking Syrian companies owned or controlled by members of the regime from exporting to the EU and halting the issuing if visas against high level government officials complicit in the killing of protesters. But does the EU have the backbone and balls for such a move. Not likely. The EU will met to discuss sanctions today. The questions is what they can agree upon?

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About Leif Eriksson

Leif Eriksson has worked in the field of asylum at the Swedish Migration Agency specializing in the Middle East, Schengen and the Dublin Regulation, as Migration Attaché and head of the migration section at the Swedish Embassy in Damascus 2005 - 2008, as a resettlement consultant at the UNHCR branch office in Damascus 2008 - 2009, Consul at the Swedish Consulate General in Jerusalem 2012 - 2013 and associate RSD/RST officer at UNHCR in Beirut 2013 - 2014. He currently lives in Tbilisi, Georgia.
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