Images of Libyans celebrating the death of Moammar Gadhafi are leaving Russian officials cold. And it’s more than a pre-winter chill.
“It’s great,” said the Dutch leader.
“We had nothing to do with it,” said the Russian leader.
Sour grapes is the mood in Moscow.
Mikhail Margelov, a Russian senator who tried and failed to negotiate a Libyan settlement several months ago, warned darkly Thursday evening of the dangers of democracy to the wealthy Arab nation on the southern shores of the Mediterranean.
“The West should not rush to impose the Council of Europe’s democratic principles on Libya,” the senator told Interfax news agency. “These principles only hurt the country plagued by the civil war.”
Russia’s authoritarian rulers distrust democracy at home. Voters of Moscow, St. Petersburg and all other major cities are not deemed politically mature enough to elect their own mayors.
Another member of parliament, Konstantin Kosachyov, told Interfax: “The Gaddafi regime doomed itself to defeat, when, unlike Syria, it refused to carry out political reforms.”
It is unclear what reforms are being taken in Syria, a nation where 3,000 people have been killed in recent months in a slow motion revolt against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
This year, Russia clung to losing leaders in revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Two weeks ago, Russia joined China in vetoing a United Nations resolution that would have imposed sanctions on the Syrian government. Now, Russia advocates political dialogue in Syria.
While the Kremlin likes to believe it is being evenhanded, Syria’s government is trumpeting Russia’s “support.”
Here are recent headlines from Interfax, the Russian news agency: “Damascus hails Russia’s stance on Syrian issue.” “Syria expects Russia to honor its military contracts.” “Syrian leadership wants West to assume same attitude toward developments as Russia.” “Syrian authorities losing war to Western media – Russian Senator.” And, “Syrian leadership determined to conduct political reforms peacefully – Russian Senator.”
The senator in that last headline, Iyas Umakhanov, hailed President Bashar al-Assad’s “desire to steer the country toward democratic reforms by the way of peaceful transformation.” (Senators in Russia are not elected by direct popular vote, but by provincial legislatures).
Two weeks ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a commentary attacking the “foreign media” for “slurring the image of Syria and its leadership in the eyes of the world community and in creating conditions for justifying foreign interference in Syrian affairs and overthrowing the current regime.”
On Monday, Moscow’s normally tough police looked on indulgently as about 30 Syrians demonstrated at Pushkin Square, holding portraits of the presidents of Russia and Syria and chanting: “Syria-Russia: Friends Forever.”
The jury is out on how the Syria revolt will play out. It could well be that the Kremlin is once again on the wrong side of history of this year. Either way, the perception will likely endure that the Kremlin sided with the Assad government.
Irrespective of Syria’s endgame, Russian officials might consider dropping their new pet phrase: “Libya scenario.” As in this headline about Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “Lavrov believes Syria can well avoid Libya scenario.”
Today, the airwaves and the Internet are filled with Libyans joyously celebrating the end of Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year grip on their nation. Each time, a Russian official warns in an ominous voice about “the Libya scenario,” Libyans are reminded, once again, which side Russia took in their eight-month struggle against the dictator.