MOSCOW -- Special envoy Kofi Annan’s sudden announcement Thursday that he was giving up his effort to find peace in Syria appeared to be an unpleasant surprise to Russian officials, who had given his effort strong backing as the only way out of the conflict.
When the news broke, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, could hardly hide his frustration.
"We regret that he chose to do so,” Churkin told reporters in New York. “We have supported very strongly Kofi Annan's efforts.”
In an earlier statement, the Foreign Ministry had defended the former U.N. secretary-general's approach against efforts to amend it, and expressed Russia's intention “to continue working to overcome the crisis in Syria based on Kofi Annan’s peace plan.”
The Kremlin has blocked efforts in the U.N. Security Council by the U.S. and its allies to impose sanctions on Syria, insisting that Annan's mediation effort was the only path forward.
Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, is widely thought to be suspicious of an effort like the one that helped oust Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi last year. A U.N. resolution that authorized the use of military action against Kadafi's forces was instrumental in bringing him down.
Russian lawmaker Leonid Kalashnikov acknowledged that he was upset by Annan’s decision, but he said it was more the result of Western policies than a failure of Russian diplomacy.
“Russia supported Kofi Annan as an experienced diplomat who knew how to keep away from extreme positions," said Kalashnikov, deputy chief of the Foreign Relations Committee in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament. “Annan must have quit because he realized he will not get the backing he needed from the West, the chances for a peaceful solution now dwindling rapidly.”
However, some analysts in Moscow accused Russia of helping drive the situation into a dead end.
“Russia remains alone in this game with no cards to play,” said Valery Garbuzov, deputy director of the USA and Canada Institute, a Moscow-based think tank. “Annan’s departure sums up the flawed tactics and strategy chosen by the Kremlin in its approach to the conflict.”
“Now the West will step up its pressure on Assad to go, with unpredictable consequences,” Garbuzov said.
Another Middle East expert, Alexander Umnov, a senior researcher at the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said Annan's departure was a serious blow to Russia's position as forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad appeared to be building momentum.
At least one analyst predicted Russia would get over Annan's resignation quickly.
“Annan was not our diplomat," said Alexander Satanovsky, president of the Institute for Middle East Studies in Moscow. "It will take [Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov 30 seconds to replace his name in the phone directory with somebody else’s and forget about him.”
“Annan’s mission was doomed from the very beginning, and now we are in for an all-out civil war in Syria,” Satanovsky said.
-- Sergei L. Loiko
Photo: Kofi Annan, former special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League for Syria, speaks during a briefing at the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva on Thursday. Credit: EPA/Martial Trezzi