World powers 'spectators' to Syria's descent into chaos

Amid the appalling violence, can the world help Syria avoid the bloodbath that seems its terrible destiny?

Damaged cars at the site where two bombs detonated near state buildings in Idlib last month Credit: Reuters

The best case scenario is that Russia makes a cold diplomatic calculation that backing President Assad is a strategic mistake. The Kremlin may soon realize that the Alawite regime in Damascus is doomed and they had better prepare for a successor government.

If Russia changed sides, and offered the Assad family a dacha outside Moscow as a sanctuary, then the diplomatic deadlock would be broken.

Syria's President Assad Credit: Reuters

Even if this happened, that's actually the easy part. With Assad gone, and his Alawite security apparatus in turmoil, there are likely to be multiple acts of revenge by all sides. Then the massacres of the last two weeks would seem like the beginning of an Iraqi-style cycle of sectarian and ethnic killings that could last for months or even years.

With the UN paralysed by a deeply divided Security Council, there is now open speculation that diplomacy needs a new arena.

The scene inside the United Nations during the special UN General Assembly session on Syria Credit: ITV News/Michael Herrod

That's why Kofi Annan is floating the idea of a new Contact Group on Syria that brings in world powers and regional players like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

You can imagine how the possible involvement of Iran is seen in Washington. America sees Teheran as part of the problem not the solution. So it seems the Contact Group idea is dead before it was even born.

The military option barely exists. No one wants to insert their forces into a civil war and against a well-armed Syrian army that has access to Iranian and Russian weaponry. In any case there is no legal basis for military intervention without UN authorisation.

Does it mean world powers are mere spectators to a descent into chaos? For the moment, yes. But like with Bosnia, there will come an opportunity for diplomacy.

It requires Moscow to change sides and Assad to acknowledge he has no choice but to surrender power. Tragically, it could take many months - and many atrocities - before we reach that point.