The Syrian uprising has been in progress since March 2011. During recent months and especially the last two weeks there have been unprecedented attacks on Aleppo and several suburbs in Damascus. Human Rights Watch claims that atrocities are being committed by both sides. Western powers, including the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia have demanded that Bashar Assad step down. Koffi Annan's peace mission has failed and the UN has been blocked by Russia and China on three occasions in its attempt to pass resolutions that would impose tougher sanctions on Syria. The UN General Assembly voted on Friday to condemn the Syrian regime and condemned its own Security Council.
It is relatively clear why Russia is blocking the resolutions. After all it needs the Assad regime to continue to exercise its influence in the region. While Russia's most obvious prize it the naval base at the port of Tartus, Russia's only naval outpost in the Mediteranean, there are other considerations for Putin's Russia. Russia's trade with Syria amounts to $1.97 Billion, thus Russian businessmen would have plenty to lose if sanctions were imposed. Defence exports amounted to $1 Billion with another $4 Billion in outstanding contracts. Syria also imports petroleum products, grains, electrical equipment and other Russian goods. Besides exercising its influence, Russia would have a lot to lose. Russia is also concerned that the removal of Assad would give control to the Islamic Brotherhood, as has been seen around the region.
An article in the Jordan Times also sees the UN facing major obstacles should Assad fall. It points to bitter division among world leaders and the absence of an opposition leader.
"A team of senior UN officials led by Deputy Secretary Generalis consulting on the Syrian crisis and studying contingencies, and one possible model might be Afghanistan.
After the ouster of the Taliban by US-led forces in 2001, the UN moved quickly to fill the political vacuum, convening world leaders and prominent Afghans in Bonn, Germany, to consider the country's future.
Participants adopted an accord on December 5, 2001, spelling out arrangements for an interim government. The UN Security Council swiftly endorsed the power-sharing agreement, and on December 20, 2001, it unanimously authorised a multinational force to assist the new government with security.
Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that in the case of Afghanistan the major powers were united, making for an easier initial transition.
"In the case of Syria, the great powers are fighting," he said. So "UN action is not going to be easy."
You can bet your bottom dollar that the phone lines between the State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry are being burned up to find some kind of accommodation. While the US/Russia relationship is not what it could be, there are a lot of other issues the two countries co-operate on (space and overflight of Russian territory for resupply and withdrawal of troops).
Some of the carrots in the US arsenal are the NATO Missile Defence Program and obviously an assurance that Russia will not lose its naval base in Tartus.
Regardless, Syria is not Libya nor Afghanistan. Any accommodation must take Israel and Iran into consideration in the mix. For Israel, which is already concerned with what is happening in neighbouring Egypt, there is even greater concern if Syria should fall into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not as simple as it would appear at first.