Welcome to Russia’s Syria doublespeak
June 19th, 2013
11:16 AM ET

Welcome to Russia’s Syria doublespeak

By Anna Neistat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Anna Neistat is associate program director at Human Rights Watch and has undertaken extensive field research in Syria since the beginning of the uprising. The views expressed are her own.

While world leaders managed to produce a joint communique on Syria at the end of the G8 summit, the closing media remarks made it clear that Vladimir Putin hasn’t actually moved an inch on the issue. The Russian president once again lashed out at the European Union and the United States for considering arms shipments to the Syrian opposition, suggesting it will further destabilize Syria. At the same time, he made it clear that Russia will continue supplying a range of weapons to the Syrian government, arguing that this will help stabilize the region while preventing a foreign intervention.

Welcome to Russian doublespeak.

Some of you may have trouble understanding Moscow’s logic, or will at least find it remarkably cynical. But anyone who used to watch the prime time Soviet show “International Panorama” will be at an advantage in interpreting what Russia really means.  After all, this is the same program that trained viewers to be able to distinguish between the “ignition of new offensive arms race” (U.S. development of strategic weapons) and “maintenance of the power balance and international security” (Soviet development of strategic weapons). Of course, regular viewers would also never confuse the “blood-thirsty hirelings of Capital” (anti-communist guerrillas) with the “valiant freedom fighters” (pro-communist guerrillas). And audiences would also be fully aware that Western intervention anywhere in the world is a “shameless attack on sovereignty by ruthless NATO occupants,” while Soviet invasion is a selfless fulfillment of “an international duty to support brotherly peoples.”

The return of Soviet doublespeak is a clear and chilling reminder that the policy such rhetoric represents is back as well. And the sooner Russia’s international counterparts realize that, the better.

Russia’s relentless support of a government that has murdered tens of thousands of its own citizens is in no way due to its lack of knowledge of the situation on the ground. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has detailed information about large-scale war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Bashar al-Assad’s forces as well as the abuses committed by the opposition. This information has been documented by human rights groups, a U.N.-appointed Commission of Inquiry, and numerous journalists who traveled to Syria. I am confident that the Foreign Ministry has this information as I have met repeatedly with them over the past two years to share the results of our extensive research on the ground in Syria.

More from GPS: Why Russia won't cut Syria loose

We have tried again and again to convince Moscow to play a constructive role to resolve the Syrian crisis – to use its influence with al-Assad to stop the attacks on civilians; to work with the moderate parts of the opposition; to assist with aid delivery to thousands of displaced people in opposition-controlled areas; and to support international efforts to bring war criminals on both sides to justice.

It is now becoming clear, however, that when Russia talks of a “peaceful solution” in Syria, it refers to only one acceptable outcome – the political survival, at any cost, of its authoritarian ally and the maintenance of the security apparatus that has ruled Syria for over 40 years. This is the only stability Russia believes in, and, unsurprisingly, this is the same stability it is trying to enforce within its own borders. In the past year, Russian authorities have imposed a severe crackdown on civil society, aimed at stifling political protest and ensuring Vladimir Putin’s unchallenged rule.

While pushing for a Syria peace conference, Russia has continued to send arms to al-Assad – and not only defensive weapons, as Moscow repeatedly claimed. A recently leaked document reported on by the Washington Post shows the Syrian government requesting 20,000 Kalashnikovs and 20,000,000 bullets as recently as March. And a Russian arms manufacturer just claimed that a contract has been signed to deliver at least 10 fighter jets. At the same time, Moscow consistently refused, for example, to support a U.N. Commission of Inquiry into the situation in Syria or push for the release of peaceful opposition activists.

Russia’s backing of al-Assad is not only driven by the need to preserve its naval presence in the Mediterranean, secure its energy contracts, or counter the West on “regime change.” It also stems from Putin’s existential fear for his own survival and the survival of the repressive system that he and al-Assad represent. In Putin’s universe, al-Assad cannot lose because it means that one day he, Putin, might as well.

In the face of this unmasked duplicity, Western efforts to engage with Russia will be, at best, fruitless, and could even prove counterproductive in trying to stop the killing of civilians in Syria. By making regular trips to Moscow and spending endless hours talking to the Russian leader on the side lines of the summit in an effort to negotiate yet another dead-end initiative, the U.S. and European leaders fail to get any closer to ending the Syrian crisis. Russia interprets these efforts as a clear proof of its indispensability, and shamelessly exploits this to gain more time for the murderous government it supports.

The only way to get Russia to collaborate with the international community in a constructive way is to make it clear that this obstructive behavior has a real cost. As a first step, the U.S. and Europe should refuse to enter into any new deals with Russia’s state-owned arms trading company Rosoboronexport – including weapons purchase, the company’s planned appearances in arms trade shows, and its advertising in industry publications. They should encourage other Rosoboronexport clients around the world to do the same.  Needless to say, deals with other countries supplying arms to the Syrian government should stop as well.

There is no reason to play by the rules imposed by Russia, especially if playing by these rules means dozens of civilian lives are lost on a daily basis. Those who describe themselves as “friends of Syria” have enough power to prove that their friendship is about more than empty words.

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Topics: Russia • Syria

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soundoff (52 Responses)

    another CNN propaganda , shame on you CNN, tell the truth to your viewers

    June 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Reply
    • Sam

      And why are you against trying to stop the killing of innocent people?
      Shame on you!
      And thank you CNN for this thoughtful article.

      June 19, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Reply
      • yes

        Innocent people are getting killed because someone keeps throwing weapons, training, and intelligence to Al Qaeda.

        June 20, 2013 at 10:19 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Assad's regime is brutal. This brutality is in the family. Already Bashar's father, Hafez, who died in 2000, ordered a massacre in Hama 1982, during which more than 20.000 were killed. This civil war has cost nearly 100.000 lives. How can Assad expect the Sunnis to forgive him and forget these atrocities? Let the country break up. It's the only way to end sectarian violence.

        June 20, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Mewan Rangana

      Got that dude...You are right...This is propaganda..Jewish media style...God bless the Russian Federation, Iran & Syria..

      June 20, 2013 at 5:00 am | Reply
  2. anyl

    I feel Anna is all wrong.If not for Russia ,China and I ran,United states and allies would have run over Syria.USA is acting on behalf of the Saudis ,read Sunnis and wahabis.Use of Chemical weapon is an excuse as was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.Under Assad .,we can think of a modern and secular Syria although the civil war now is more sectarian in nature .

    June 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  3. Richard

    Putin has always spoken out of both sides of his mouth. It's a KGB tradition.

    June 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      It gives Putin satisfaction to ruffle the US' feathers, not only to flex muscles in the West, also for home consumption.

      June 20, 2013 at 10:44 am | Reply
  4. amit

    BullS!@it you r talking about russia, the usa leave trail of destruction where ever it goes. world cannot trust usa, your short sighted approach has already caused enough damage. if it was'nt for russia, a country with even like india which has strong democratic values would have suffered huge losses due to american short sightedness. and u guys are doing the same thing again in afghanistan, in all your complete wisdom ,you want to bring peace in afghanistan by talking to the talibans, u vuys call ur self world power and a small group of rag tag hardiners broke ur back.the conditions in which these talks are being held will only strengthen the hrdliners and increase destability in south asia. the world actually can say that usa cannot brong stability and cannot be trusted

    June 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Well posted, amit. Thanks for your input here.

      June 21, 2013 at 11:30 am | Reply
  5. cryptomoon

    As usual, so called 'human rights' groups are nothing more than lying, warmongering propaganda tools of western imperialism, speaking with double tongues, putting on 'humanitarian' mask on mass-murdering policies of Washington regime.

    June 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  6. Remy Albina

    I would like the Human rightt's activst to go to Syria stay there for a month study the situation and then talk with their expertise and prompting the senate to think otherwise we will send arms and then military aid and God forbid the rest. What do the big brass not understand that the fighters are 80% outsiders and a few Syrians. We are trying to erradicate terrorism but here we are instrumental in achieving terrorism. Then we will say what did we do wrong and all our lovely boys dying for a lost cause. DEMOCRACYit does not exisit in the true terms even AMERICAN DEMOCRACY is a bit shaky

    June 19, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  7. Jamey

    This article is full of the official US policy and propaganda to justify yet another war which was planned years ago by the Neocons. Truth be told, it is the US who uses double-speak more than anyone as it purports to defend human rights while bombing hundreds of thousands of innocents all over the globe. How can anyone be blind to this fact? Seems CNN is once again parroting what its embedded military-industrial complex global war profiteering masters tell it to write. Anna, you are flat out wrong on this one. Just as with Orwell, with the US WAR = PEACE. Unbelievable!

    June 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Good posting, Jamey. You nailed it good!

      June 20, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  8. sand

    israel will get nuked one shahab 3 missile armed with 1 megaton nuclear warhead and israel will be gone after that usa britain ireland dublin australia norway oslo and ghana is going to get the nuke one blow to the head and its over.

    June 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  9. Matt

    Can the people who say she is lying please state what she is lying about. thanks. (not an attempt to cause argument, just want to know)

    June 19, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Reply
    • Adam

      Not surprised to see this post didn't get any responses, since she didn't actually lie about anything.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  10. Joseph McCarthy

    Let's all hope that the Russians stand their ground on this one! This will hopefully make it less easy for the NATO thugs to get their grimy hands on Syria and thus bringing ever closer to dominating the Middle East!

    June 20, 2013 at 8:13 am | Reply
  11. vxcnxcnerureu458

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    June 20, 2013 at 11:34 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      The above comment needs to be deleted and how! It has no place here, none whatsoever!!!!!!! Evidently, somebody's trying to be funny.

      June 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  12. FedupwithLA

    I am certain that those four individuals pictured above are looking out for the best interests of the Syrian people and for the world. I am certain they all had a nice dinner after that photo, and went out shopping afterwards to ease their minds.

    June 23, 2013 at 8:05 am | Reply
  13. rightospeak

    Simply a propaganda article provided for by the Big Money Trust's "foundation" which is a joke in itself. Human Rights Watch ? Are you kidding me ? Have you looked recently into the US ??Try Libya for Human Rights' violation discoveries. CNN's Mr. B was only looking for burned pancakes with his propaganda piece in Libya and he wore sunglasses to make sure he saw nothing and reported nothing contrary to official propaganda. When I saw that video I was disgusted and promised myself never to watch him ever again-he is lying to us ! And before I thought he was a nice guy-how wrong I was.
    Another funny 'foundation" is with something about peace in it, but actually is a propaganda machine for perpetual war.

    Speaking of doublespeak-most "foundations" are based on it.

    June 23, 2013 at 9:28 am | Reply
  14. sanios

    you have no idea what these rebels are, and how they are connected to alqaeda and the muslim brotherhood, the guns you are throwing at these rebels will be pointed at you, once this is over, ( my source, well i am in this s*** myself and i hate obama for supporting that cow of a egyptian president )

    June 25, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Reply

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