I mentioned that the UN “blue hats” had moved into their HQ in Damascus the other day, but I didn’t go too far into assessing the implications of their presence. To that end, it is worthwhile to ask what exactly they are there to do and for whom?

Right now, the UN mission is to monitor the ceasefire and to prepare the way for the  arrival of 100+ more monitors and possibly peacekeepers.* Once in place, those peace keepers would… well, that remains to be seen, but going by precedent, they would somewhat reduce the severity of the most obvious violent abuses. Along the way, they may damper the sense of urgency felt by the international community to do anything further. It is highly probable that the Syrian regime will try to manipulate the UN presence – showing them what the regime wants them to see and justifying their own actions to the world as being under UN oversight. So, for whom are the monitors and potential peacekeepers acting? I’ll score that to the Syrian regime and the international community writ large with half a point to the Syrian people, who might get slightly less killed.

Also, while I mentioned Iran’s motivations in playing along – they will be good international community members when that means helping their lackey regime survive – I failed to mention the other big outside interested party: Russia. Russia is the Syrian regime’s most powerful security guarantor aside from Iran, and in terms of keeping the international community at bay, they dwarf the Iranians. Iran provides money, arms, and a certain amount of legitimacy through force. Russia provides all that plus FSB security training and cooperation, a large well-trained military able to swoop in and save them, plus a UN veto.

What does Russia get out of its relationship to Syria? The port of Tartous. Tartous hosts a soviet-era naval base still in use by the Russian navy. Russia finds this arrangement very much to its liking. As the very last Russian outpost in the Arab world, and a very useful Mediterranean port, it is unlikely that Russia would be willing to easily part with this and would be willing to do almost anything to prevent the Assad regime – which allows Russia to use the base in thanks for Russia forgiving Syria’s enormous debt – from falling. Does this mean that the issue is hopeless and that Russia will automatically prevent the international community from acting in Syria? No it does not, but it is a major factor with which to contend for anyone trying to do so.

*Update: in my first posting, I stated that UN peacekeepers were slated to follow the monitors. While that is certainly possible, I do not believe that’s been resolved; only more monitors are to set to follow. Any peacekeeping actions would need a further UN resolution.

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