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French envoy: Russia is key player in Syria crisis

Russia supplies Syria with arms and protects it from military intervention by UN forces. But the French ambassador to US, François Delattre, says Russia may be more flexible than it seems. 

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / June 19, 2012

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Dael, near Deraa, June 15. The poster (bottom) reads: "Iran, Russia are partners with the regime, in the killing of the Syrian people."

Shaam News Network/REUTERS

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With Russia sending weapons to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad – weapons that have helped the regime murder thousands of Syrian citizens – and with Russian marines arriving at the Syrian port city of Tartous, reportedly to evacuate Russian personnel there in the midst of a 17-month rebellion, it might seem like Russia is determined to play the spoiler to any kind of resolution of the Syrian crisis.  

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But French Ambassador to the United States Francois Delattre, during a visit to the Christian Science Monitor in Boston, suggests that Russia may be more flexible and realistic behind the diplomatic stage than it at first seems to be. Russia's influence and reputation have suffered among other Arab nations – the majority of the Arab League supports UN intervention in Syria – and it is “beginning to understand that Assad is part of the problem, and not the solution, which is good,” says Ambassador Delattre.

While former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan attempts to pull together a peaceful end to the hostilities and a transition of President Assad out of power, France will continue to support what it views as “Plan A.” But France and several other nations, including Russia, are aware that armed intervention – or “Plan B” – may end up becoming the only remaining option, Mr. Delattre says.

“Assad is a murderer of his own people, and the sooner he leaves, the better,” Delattre says. “As a bridge between the West and the Assad regime, the Russians are having to plan for an exit strategy. In either case [with Plan A or a move to Plan B], the Russians are key players.”

A two-hour meeting yesterday between President Obama and newly reelected Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the fringes of the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, produced broad agreement that violence needs to stop in Syria, but no specific plan for how to effect an end to hostilities. President Putin told reporters afterward, "From my point of view, we have found many common points on this issue [of Syria]," Reuters news agency reported. 

With violence ever increasing in Syria – Syrian armed forces pounded opposition positions in the town of Douma on Monday, killing 23 – it might be hard to see any signs of progress in the crisis. Opposition rebels seem to have consolidated control in rural areas, and have holed up in several major cities, including the town of Douma, just nine miles from the capital of Damascus. But the Syrian military has shown no compunction about using the full force of its Russian-made hardware in pounding rebel positions, including those in heavily concentrated urban areas. The head of the UN’s observer team in Syria says that recent spikes in violence could undermine his mission and Kofi Annan’s peace process.  

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