On MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday, Zbigniew Brzezinski explained Saturday’s Sino-Russian veto against a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have urged Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down. “What motivates China and Russia is self-interest,” he said.
According to the former national security advisor, the two countries, who were alone among fifteen council members in their opposition to the resolution, feared that it could have set a precedent for international interference in their own struggles with anti-government forces. He called it an “exaggerated” fear because Western powers are unlikely to antagonize China and Russia by seeking to meddle in their internal conflicts but an “understandable” one all the same given past military interventions in Libya and former Yugoslavia which the Russians in particular regarded warily.
Turkey, said Brzezinski, may be “the key” to resolving the situation in Syria where the Ba’athist regime has violently suppressed demonstrations against it for eleven months. Human rights organizations estimate that thousands of people have died in confrontations with security forces so far.
A lot of the opposition in Syria to the Assad regime bases itself on Turkish proximity and in some cases even their presence within Turkey.
A Syrian opposition government in waiting sits in Istanbul while Ankara has refused to close its southern border to Syrian refugees.
In the wake of the “Arab Spring,” the Turks have distanced themselves from Damascus despite fostering trade relations with the regime there in previous years. President Abdullah Gül said that he had “lost confidence” in his Syrian counterpart in August of last year while the Turkish foreign minister declared in an interview with France 24 in January that his country was “ready to do everything for [the] Syrian people” although he stopped short of endorsing calls for military action.
Whatever pressure the Turks may bring to bear, Brzezinski cautioned against military intervention, pointing out that “the situation within the country is much more confused than the sort of black-white notions that we get from sweeping generalizations about what is happening.”
The Syrian people may not be as united against the regime as was the case in Libya where loyalists were far outnumbered by rebel forces. The uprising increasingly appears to break down along sectarian lines with the majority Sunni population hoping to topple Assad and minority Alawites, Christians and Druze, concentrated in the coastal provinces, less in favor of regime change. They may fear that their religious freedoms will be restricted if there is a Sunni government.
Since foreign news media are largely barred from reporting from Syria, it is difficult to estimate the exact scope of the rebellion although there seems to be less sympathy for the rebels in the northwestern urban areas than there is in Sunni dominated south and southeast.