Al-Assad fails to lift existing sanctions—the West vows more

An expressive photo of the President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad (AP)

An expressive photo of the President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad (AP)

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Enab Baladi – Noureddine Ramadan

While the Syrian people in some cities were preparing to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Syrian revolution at the beginning of March, the international community, especially the European Union and the UK, was threatening the Syrian regime with more sanctions and accountability. 

This proves the failure of letters sent by the affiliates of Bashar al-Assad, the head of the Syrian regime, to the US and many European countries calling for lifting or reducing the sanctions imposed on the Syrian government.

War of letters 

In the past few weeks, the Syrian regime loyalists have sent letters to international bodies urging them to ease sanctions on the Syrian regime to mitigate the economic impacts of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

These letters were met with a counter-movement by some opposition-affiliated individuals and groups, assuring that the sanctions are introduced in response to the violent repression of the civilian population.

The opposition also demanded that additional sanctions be imposed on the Syrian regime to force it to accept a political rather than a military solution. Furthermore, they stressed that the Syrian regime does not deliver all the food aid it receives to Syrians in an attempt to starve its people into submission.  

– A letter from the Follow-up Committee for the Arab Christians Congress (FCACC) on 10 January to the US President, Joe Biden, and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, called for an increase in the penalties and said that they could not be eased given that the regime has committed documented war crimes.

This letter came in response to the letters addressed to the French and American presidents, which demanded the lifting of sanctions against the Syrian regime.

-A letter to the Pope in the Vatican from Syrian expatriates supporting the Syrian regime on 18 March, calling for the lifting of sanctions.

– A letter sent by Syrian political and academic figures to the UK government and its Foreign Minister, Dominic Rennie Raab, on 26 December 2020, to expedite similar measures regarding the adoption of sanctions against Asma al-Akhras, the wife of the President of the Syrian Regime, and her parents and two brothers by the US, who carry British citizenship.

Western states maintain their position

Letters calling for easing sanctions on the al-Assad regime clashed with the international community’s tough stance against the Syrian regime. Many states vowed that Bashar al-Assad will be held to account. Moreover, it will not recognize the elections expected to take place in the upcoming May. 

On 15 March, the UK government marked the tenth anniversary of the Syrian uprising against Bashar al-Assad by imposing sanctions on six senior Syrian regime figures, including Faisal Mekdad, the new Syrian foreign minister, Luna al-Shibl, a media and special adviser to al-Assad, businessman Muhammad Baraa al-Qatirji, the financier Yasar Ibrahim, and others.

The sanctions came two days after the UK authorities opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that Asma al-Assad, the First Lady of Syria, incited and encouraged the terrorist acts of the Syrian regime forces that have resulted in death during the country’s ten-year war. The UK authorities obtained evidence that supports the allegation. 

In its statement on 14 March, the European Union(EU) accused the Syrian regime of causing great human suffering and stressed the need for holding it accountable as a legal condition for achieving peace. It confirmed that the sanctions imposed on the regime and its entities will continue and be renewed next May.

Syrian journalist and opposition figure Ayman Abdul Nour told Enab Baladi that the Syrian regime and its supporters abroad have not stopped seeking to ease sanctions through statements and letters in which they used minorities. However, they failed because Syrians know who is besieging them and stealing their aid, even in areas controlled by the Syrian regime.

Commenting on the letters of the international community to the Syrian regime, Abdel Nour said that the international position has become more strict because it realized that the Syrian regime is intentionally obstructing a political solution. The regime used such methods most recently in the work of the Constitutional Committee, in addition to the clear evidence of the use of chemical weapons.

Finger-biting game

Political researcher Majid Al-Aloush

On the one hand, sanctions, as general policies, express the European failure to take direct action on the ground. On the other hand, sanctions signal European fears of Syria’s constant disasters and their security threats on Europe.

In fact, sanctions come in the context of the US-European effort to increase further pressures on Moscow, to force it to change its methods of dealing with the Syrian crisis. They want Russia to accept a solution that would suit all Syrians, not a solution of only Russian specifications.

These countries take advantage of the Russian panic resulting from the accelerating economic collapse in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime and its dangerous impacts that have become expected and serious. These impacts could topple all that Russia has achieved so far.

The Russian government’s panic was apparent in its attempt to establish a new process in which one of its pillars would provide financial support that could stop or delay the accelerating collapse of the Syrian economy.

The panic was also evident in the recent and failed tour of Sergey Lavrov to the Gulf countries and his remarkable statement. He said that Russia is ready to work on any formula for a political solution in Syria that respects resolution 2254. It is worth mentioning that Russians used to avoid or circumvent this resolution, whereas now they are cautious about implementing it. 

What is new in the Western stance, in general, is not the imposition of economic sanctions but instead the hints that they will not confer legitimacy on the elections that Russia intends to organize in the regime-controlled areas early next summer.

These implications pose the risk of unilaterally withdrawing Western recognition of the legality of the regime’s political representation of Syria. Politically, this would turn the regime into a mere party to the conflict that is equal to the rest of the parties. As a result, this threatens the agreements signed between Russia and the Syrian regime and robs them of the legal character they enjoyed until now, and deprives the regime of tax funds for document services and passports for Syrians scattered in Europe, the primary source of the regime’s treasury resources for some time.

Extending the European sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime and hinting at the withdrawal of legitimacy from the Syrian regime are clear messages to Russia. These messages reveal that Russia’s use of civilians to achieve political goals will not bear fruit. Russia and the Syrian regime perceive that if the Syrian people become under famine, the Europeans will provide more relief support based on humanitarian grounds only.  

For their part, the Europeans will develop their position in line with the new US administration’s tense orientation toward Russia, which is closer to the European position. The European countries have been pressing Washington since the days of Obama and Trump to find a solution to the Syrian tragedy and curb Putin’s “antagonism” in Syria and other regions.

It is a finger-biting game between the parties interfering in the Syrian issue and dreaming of transforming Syria either into a sphere of influence or a launching pad for action, which price Syrians pay from their social and national presence.

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