Hijab: Russia in denial over Syria

Former Syrian PM tells Russian FM that no negotiations can take place so long as Assad remains in power.

It doesn’t seem Russia plans to change its position on Syria, which supports in the strongest terms President Bashar Al Assad and his inner circle’s rule.

Russia, though in denial, is extremely involved in the Syrian conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been on a Middle East tour in an attempt to diffuse any plans of action against Syria by trying to convince Arab leaders and the exiled Syrian opposition that the only way to end the bloodbath is through a dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition.

Though Arab leaders may agree in principle that a political solution is key, getting the Syrian opposition to stomach a dialogue with the Syrian regime is, quite frankly, next to impossible.

In a rare and first high-level meeting between a Russian official and a Syrian defector, Lavrov met with former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who defected to Jordan last August.

Lavrov announced at a news conference in Amman that he had discussed ways to end the bloodshed in Syria with the former Syrian Prime Minister.

However, both left the meeting in complete disagreement, according to Hijab who spoke to Al Jazeera shortly after Lavrov’s news conference. Hijab simply and openly told Lavrov that a dialogue with Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad or any other Syrian officials with blood on their hands is not going to happen.

During the meeting, Lavrov invited Hijab to Moscow for further discussions on the future of Syria. Hijab turned down the offer, saying he will not visit Moscow until Russia changes its policy on Syria.

Tense discussions

Sources close to the meeting that took place in Amman told Al Jazeera that Lavrov had appeared tense while talking to Hijab.

The Russian foreign minister allegedly said that Moscow’s official position was to remain uninvolved in the Syrian conflict and did not provide the Syrian government with military capabilities to reinforce the crackdown on the opposition.

Hijab allegedly responded that he was in office when Syria received a batch of weapons from Russia in a covert weapons deal, and at no charge.

Hijab served as Prime Minister from June to August 2012. Lavrov had nothing to say in response.

What is becoming more evident is that when it comes to Syria, Russia is not just fighting to protect its last remaining ally in the Middle East or its only naval base in the Syrian port of Tartous.

Rather, Russia is seen to be fighting a second Cold War with the US in Syria.

Russia’s fear is that once the US elections are over the President would officially and openly provide weapons to rebel fighters in Syria to topple the regime. Russia is doing the same by feeding the Syrian government with a lifeline of weaponry. 

The ones paying the price of this rivalry are the Syrian people.

Russian officials have gone on and on about how Syrian people should choose their own destiny without outside interference. They say this believing, like the Syrian government, that the conflict was instigated by foreign agendas not by a homegrown rebellion.

But the situation is far more complicated now than they were last year with the emergence of so-called armed Islamist militants and allegedly al-Qaeda fighting under the loose term of “The Free Syrian Army.”

This makes it next to impossible for the Syrian opposition to unite whether on the political or even on the platform of armed struggle.

This all plays into the hands of Moscow. It helps Russia deter any country from attempting to assist the opposition in Syria.