Did the West ignore a Russian offer for Assad to step down as president?

A recent report on a 2012 overture from Russia, “has been latched on to by various commentators to suggest that the West’s failure to respond to this initiative is responsible for the subsequent humanitarian crisis that unfolded in Syria,” writes Brian Slocock: Even the Guardian’s usually reliable Julian Borger (co-author of the article) seems to gives credence this notion, reciting the terrible events that followed February 2012. Borger at least (somewhat contradictorily) notes that “Officially, Russia has staunchly backed Assad through the four-and-half-year Syrian war, insisting that his removal cannot be part of any peace settlement.” And notes that Kofi Anan’s 2012 peace plan of “soon fell apart over differences on whether Assad should step down.” (i.e. over Russia’s refusal to consider Asad’s removal.)

Other commentators, ranging from the right-wing Daily Mail to American left-wing “policy analyst” Phyllis Bennis, have been more explicit in connecting these events , arguing that the current wave of refugees fleeing Asad’s barrel bombs could have been avoided if the west had listened to Vitaly Churkin in February 2012.

Here is Bennis’s sweeping claim (rather undermined by the welter of conditionals she feels obliged to introduce into her argument):

But what we now see very visibly with these new revelations from Martti Ahtisaari is how in the case of the rise of ISIS … and the war in Syria which is at the root of the rise of ISIS, the refusal of the United States and its allies to take seriously the possibility of negotiating an end to that conflict before it ever reached this horrific level, to negotiate the stepping down, maybe the stepping down, potentially the stepping down, possibly, of Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, would have dramatically changed the situation there.

So let’s try and evaluate this story by looking at exactly what was happening on the diplomatic front with respect to Syria at this point in time. [Continue reading…]

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