In the Wake of the Bombs

BERLIN/DAMASCUS/MOSCOW | | syrienrussische-foederation

BERLIN/DAMASCUS/MOSCOW (Own report) - The German government, after having applauded the bombing of Syria, is now demanding participation in the country's reorganization, once the war has ended. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her intentions to have a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin "in the foreseeable future," to discuss particularly the development in Syria. The enormous costs for Syria's reconstruction, which can hardly be covered by Russia alone, are viewed as a means of leverage on Moscow. Berlin also sees itself in a position to mediate between Russia and the USA in view of Washington's threat to attack Russian positions in Syria. While the German government is going on the offensive to win influence, new foreign policy controversies are developing among the EU member states. In addition, questions are also being raised about the legitimacy of Saturday's illegal air strikes: A renowned British journalist reported that doctors in Douma have doubts that chemical weapons had been used in that city on April 7. According to the OPCW, the research institute that had been bombed on Saturday had had nothing to do with poison-gas.

 

Douma, April 7, 2018

A report by the renowned British Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk, published in London's daily "The Independent," raises questions about the legitimacy of Saturday's air strikes. A few days ago, Fisk visited the Syrian town of Douma and spoke to a doctor, who works in a subterranean clinic, in which victims of the alleged April 7th gas attack were being treated. The doctor explained that on that day a strong wind blew a huge dust cloud into the city's destroyed basements and cellars where numerous people were seeking refuge. Many were therefore suffering from acute oxygen loss and came for treatment to his clinic. "Then someone at the door, a 'White Helmet,' shouted 'Gas!,' and a panic began." This can be seen on a video being used in the West as "proof" for the use of poison-gas.[1] The "White Helmets," a "civil defense organization" of Syrian insurgents are being financed to a large degree by the British government.

No Suspicious Activities

It has also become known that the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) in Barzah, which was destroyed during Saturday's air strikes, had been inspected last November by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). According to the OPCW, the SSRC had not served for research on chemical weapons, as has been alleged to justify the bombings. On the contrary, the Organization found no suspicious substances, nor did it observe any suspicious activities, according to its report that was published on March 23 - three weeks before the bombing.[2]

"Understanding" Instead of "Support"

While the official legitimization for the attack on Syria - with Berlin's approval - is steadily falling apart, the German government has also suffered a serious setback at EU-level. Berlin was unsuccessful in rallying EU support for its position on the joint US/British/French air strikes. Whereas, on Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel explicitly classified the illegal air strikes as "necessary and appropriate,"[3] the EU foreign ministers adamantly refused to adopt this classification on Monday. In their declaration on the Syrian war, they simply declared that they "understand" that the air strikes were "specific measures" with "the sole objective to prevent further use of chemical weapons" by the Syrian government.[4] They make no mention of "supporting" the attack. This again demonstrates a serious dissention in the EU on a major foreign policy issue. Already in the affair of the poisoning of ex-double agent Sergej Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, nearly a third of the EU members had not participated in the expulsion of Russian diplomats - despite Berlin's intense efforts for pan-EU unity.

"Russia has Won"

Despite all the complications, the German government is making another effort to win influence on Syria's reconstruction. Its prospects of success are limited. After all, as Volker Perthes, Director of the chancellery-financed German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) put it on Monday, Russia "has quasi won the war in Syria,"[5] and it exercises a predominating influence in the Syrian capital. "The Europeans and Americans are no longer playing a role in Syria," concludes Guido Steinberg, Middle East expert at SWP.[6] In fact, in August 2017, at the occasion of the "Damascus International Fair," held for the first time since the war began, German business circles reported, for example, that "some initial inquiries" concerning Syria's upcoming reconstruction were registered, but it was absolutely clear that the best prospects for the most profitable contracts were for enterprises from Russia, Iran and China.[7] Syria's disposition to issue German companies contracts, would have hardly become more generous, following the German government's official approbation of Saturday's aggression. This would likewise apply to any accompanying political measures.

Diplomatic Initiatives

In its new efforts for influence, the German government is therefore not relying on Damascus, but on Moscow. Already on Sunday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced a new diplomatic initiative aimed at accelerating "the political process" for ending the war.[8] The objective is to enter talks with the Russian government, declared Maas. "Without Russia there can be no solution to this conflict."[9] High-ranking German foreign policymakers are apparently hoping for concessions. For example the foreign policy spokesperson for the parliamentary caucus of the CDU/CSU, Jürgen Hardt, declared that Syria's President Bashar al Assad "is a factor for the foreseeable future, who cannot simply be talked out of existence." "How the Assad regime can participate in the peace solution" must also be a consideration.[10] The question is to "work out a transitional solution that reduces Assad's role to the shortest possible period, while respecting Moscow's demands that the dictator be involved." "A transition with Assad, but a future without Assad - that is what diplomacy should be working on." The Chair of the CDU/CSU parliamentary caucus, Volker Kauder was quoted having announced Monday that he was prepared "to talk" to Assad, "if talks should arise."[11]

Leverage

In its planned negotiations with the Russian government, Berlin is, above all, pinning its hopes on two points of leverage. On the one hand, because of its tangible vested interests, Moscow has "always sought" to "invite" the western countries into the Syrian peace process, SWP director Perthes observes. "They are consciously seeking to have the European Union on board," because Syrian reconstruction is "too expensive" for Russia alone.[12] On the other, it may be possible to "mediate" between Moscow and Washington. This refers to the fact that in the Trump administration, with National Security Advisor John Bolton and designated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two hardliners have been named to leading decision-making positions for future Middle East military aggressions.[13] Trump himself recently considered attacking Russian positions.[14] In return for "mediation" with the US, Berlin's politicians are now hoping for Russian concessions on Syria - in spite of the fact that the German government has explicitly supported the recent bombing.

Summit Meeting

Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned President Vladimir Putin yesterday to this effect, proposing to meet with him in the "foreseeable future." Not only the war in Syria, but also the Ukrainian civil war and the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline will be on the agenda, according to sources.[15] The chancellor already has a meeting scheduled for April 27 with the US president, where reinforcement of the Iran nuclear agreement, the threatened punitive tariffs as well as the Nord Stream 2 will be among the topics for discussion. Washington seeks to block the pipeline. Berlin may be forced, for example, to weigh the benefits of the pipeline against the damages of the punitive tariffs. This too offers a point of leverage in relationship to Moscow.

 

[1] Robert Fisk: The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack. independent.co.uk 17.04.2018.

[2] Note by the Director-General: Progress in the Elimination of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Programme. OPCW Executive Council. EC-88/DG.1. 23 March 2018.

[3] See also Auf dem Weg in den Weltkrieg (II).

[4] Council Conclusions on Syria. Luxembourg, 16 April 2018.

[5] Nahostexperte: Chance auf erneuten diplomatischen Prozess. deutschlandfunk.de 16.04.2018.

[6] Lisa Caspari: Auf schwieriger Mission. zeit.de 17.04.2018.

[7] See also Rebuilding Syria.

[8] Maas kündigt diplomatische Initiative Deutschlands an. focus.de 15.04.2018.

[9] Thomas Vitzthum: Die Bundesregierung ändert plötzlich ihre Syrien-Strategie. welt.de 16.04.2018.

[10] Thomas Vitzthum: "Es gibt keine Lösung mit Assad, aber auch keine ohne ihn". welt.de 16.04.2018.

[11] Darf man mit der Giftgas-Bestie Assad verhandeln? bild.de 16.04.2018.

[12] Nahostexperte: Chance auf erneuten diplomatischen Prozess. deutschlandfunk.de 16.04.2018.

[13] See also Probe aufs Exempel.

[14] See also Auf dem Weg in den Weltkrieg (II).

[15] Merkel und Putin beraten politische Lösungen für Syrien-Konflikt. tagesspiegel.de 17.04.2018.