THE ARAB SPRING: LESSONS AND CONCLUSIONS
by Vladimir Putin
A year ago the world witnessed a new phenomenon – nearly simultaneous demonstrations against authoritarian regimes in many Arab countries. The Arab Spring was initially received with hope for positive change. People in Russia sympathized with those who were seeking democratic reform.
However, it soon became clear that events in many countries were not following a civilized scenario. Instead of asserting democracy and protecting the rights of the minority, attempts were being made to depose an enemy and to stage a coup, which only resulted in the replacement of one dominant force with another even more aggressive dominant force.
Foreign interference in support of one side of a domestic conflict and the use of power in this interference gave developments a negative aura. A number of countries did away with the Libyan regime by using air power in the name of humanitarian support. The revolting slaughter of Muammar Gaddafi – not just medieval but primeval – was the manifestation of these actions.
No one should be allowed to employ the Libyan scenario in Syria. The international community must work to achieve an internal Syrian reconciliation. It is important to achieve an early end to the violence no matter what the source, and to initiate a national dialogue – without preconditions or foreign interference and with due respect for the country’s sovereignty. This would create the conditions necessary to introduce the measures for democratization announced by the Syrian leadership. The key objective is to prevent an all-out civil war. Russian diplomacy has worked and will continue to work toward this end.
Sadder but wiser, we oppose the adoption of UN Security Council resolutions that may be interpreted as a signal to armed interference in Syria’s domestic development. Guided by this consistent approach in early February, Russia and China prevented the adoption of an ambiguous resolution that would have encouraged one side of this domestic conflict to resort to violence.
In this context and considering the extremely negative, almost hysterical reaction to the Russian-Chinese veto, I would like to warn our Western colleagues against the temptation to resort to this simple, previously used tactic: if the UN Security Council approves of a given action, fine; if not, we will establish a coalition of the states concerned and strike anyway.
The logic of such conduct is counterproductive and very dangerous. No good can come of it. In any case, it will not help reach a settlement in a country that is going through a domestic conflict. Even worse, it further undermines the entire system of international security as well as the authority and key role of the UN. Let me recall that the right to veto is not some whim but an inalienable part of the world’s agreement that is registered in the UN Charter – incidentally, on U.S. insistence. The implication of this right is that decisions that raise the objection of even one permanent member of the UN Security Council cannot be well-grounded or effective.
I hope very much that the United States and other countries will consider this sad experience and will not pursue the use of power in Syria without UN Security Council sanctions. In general, I cannot understand what causes this itch for military intervention. Why isn’t there the patience to develop a well-considered, balanced and cooperative approach, all the more so since this approach was already taking shape in the form of the aforementioned Syrian resolution? It only lacked the demand that the armed opposition do the same as the government; in particular, withdraw military units and detachments from cities. The refusal to do so is cynical. If we want to protect civilians – and this is the main goal for Russia – we must make all the participants in the armed confrontation see reason.
And one more point. It appears that with the Arab Spring countries, as with Iraq, Russian companies are losing their decades-long positions in local commercial markets and are being deprived of large commercial contracts. The niches thus vacated are being filled by the economic operatives of the states that had a hand in the change of the ruling regime.
One could reasonably conclude that tragic events have been encouraged to a certain extent by someone’s interest in a re-division of the commercial market rather than a concern for human rights. Be that as it may, we cannot sit back watch all this with Olympian serenity. We intend to work with the new governments of the Arab countries in order to promptly restore our economic positions.
Generally, the current developments in the Arab world are, in many ways, instructive. They show that a striving to introduce democracy by use of power can produce – and often does produce -contradictory results. They can produce forces that rise from the bottom, including religious extremists, who will strive to change the very direction of a country’s development and the secular nature of a government.
Russia has always had good relations with the moderate representatives of Islam, whose world outlook was close to the traditions of Muslims in Russia. We are ready to develop these contacts further under the current conditions. We are interested in stepping up our political, trade and economic ties with all Arab countries, including those that, let me repeat, have gone through domestic upheaval. Moreover, I see real possibilities that will enable Russia to fully preserve its leading position in the Middle East, where we have always had many friends.
As for the Arab-Israeli conflict, to this day, the “magic recipe” that will produce a final settlement has not been invented. It would be unacceptable to give up on this issue. Considering our close ties with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Russian diplomacy will continue to work for the resumption of the peace process both on a bilateral basis and within the format of the Quartet on the Middle East, while coordinating its steps with the Arab League.
The Arab Spring has graphically demonstrated that world public opinion is being shaped by the most active use of advanced information and communications technology. It is possible to say that the Internet, social networks, cell phones, etc. have turned into an effective tool for the promotion of domestic and international policy on par with television. This new variable has come into play and gives us food for thought – how to continue developing the unique freedoms of communication via the Internet and at the same time reduce the risk of its being used by terrorists and other criminal elements.
The notion of “soft power” is being used increasingly often. This implies a matrix of tools and methods to reach foreign policy goals without the use of arms but by exerting information and other levers of influence. Regrettably, these methods are being used all too frequently to develop and provoke extremist, separatist and nationalistic attitudes, to manipulate the public and to conduct direct interference in the domestic policy of sovereign countries.
There must be a clear division between freedom of speech and normal political activity, on the one hand, and illegal instruments of “soft power,” on the other. The civilized work of non-governmental humanitarian and charity organizations deserves every support. This also applies to those who actively criticize the current authorities. However, the activities of “pseudo-NGOs” and other agencies that try to destabilize other countries with outside support are unacceptable.
I’m referring to those cases where the activities of NGOs are not based on the interests (and resources) of local social groups but are funded and supported by outside forces. There are many agents of influence from big countries, international blocks or corporations. When they act in the open – this is simply a form of civilized lobbyism. Russia also uses such institutions – the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, International Humanitarian Cooperation, the Russkiy Mir Foundation and our leading universities who recruit talented students from abroad.
However, Russia does not use or fund national NGOs based in other countries or any foreign political organizations in the pursuit of its own interests. China, India and Brazil do not do this either. We believe that any influence on domestic policy and public attitude in other countries must be exerted in the open; in this way, those who wish to be of influence will do so responsibly.
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