What would Vitaly Churkin say?

by cheri sabraw

Eric Morris, former operations director for the UNHCR during Sarajevo, Rwanda, and Kosovo, has assigned more pages to read this summer than any other professor I have encountered. And  yet, because of his enormous contribution to refugees and to the United Nations in general (and also my fear of being unprepared), I have plugged away, reading deep into the night, long after the Judge has turned off his reading light. I have even lent my bed partner my lavender eye pillow to block the light  from his tired eyes.

The last class <sigh> is next Monday during which our final assignment is a real-time simulation of the UN Security Council on Syria. With only eight students in the class, there has been no place in which to hide. Preparation has been mandatory.

OK. I am playing the part of Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Federation’s Ambassador to the U.N.

I am to present a 10 minute speech from Mr. Churkin.
Can  you provide any advice?

What points would you make to Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador? To Great Britain? To China? Three students are playing South Africa, India, and Pakistan.

It should be interesting.

About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
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18 Responses to What would Vitaly Churkin say?

  1. What an amazing assignment! But alas I can’t help much because I find the Russian position incomprehensible (and reprehensible, too). The only clue I can give you is based on something I heard last week. A story broke that the rebels had summarily executed a number of Assad soldiers they had captured. Whether or not that’s true is hotly disputed but the Russains (maybe Comrade Churkin himself) were quoted as saying something like, well that shows that the rebels aren’t such good guys after all. It showed a true lack of tact and understanding but also a clear indication of where they stood. So unless your reading indicates otherwise I guess you have to advocate that the UN mind its own business and let Syria and Assad do whatever they want. The missing component is why. Have you gotten any clues in your reading?

    Best of luck and let us know how it goes. Be sure to wear some fancy lace on your lapels!

    • Cheri says:

      No. I will make points about what Russia would like to encourage. From what I hear from the expert (my professor), there are lots of unofficial conversations going on in New York City.

      I was thinking of wearing a babushka.

  2. Richard says:

    I see Aristotle distinguished two types of revolution: complete change of constitution and modification of an existing constitution.

    It is not necessarily so, but the former tends towards violent and the latter non-violent change. Thus, I suppose, you will be arguing for non-violence on the part of those who would seek change.

    What a mish-mash of values are at work in Syria and in the UN, as usual. The murder and misery, half-truth and downright lies on all sides seem set to work their way through to the bitter end. One’s heart bleeds at pictures of tiny children’s corpses and the flight of refugees, yet who are the perpetrators of these crimes?

    A respectable case can be made by Russia, who argue, for whatever reason, against military intervention, though it is difficult to see how the scale of killing can be controlled without it. Russia, of course, would argue that the experience of Iraq belies this.

  3. Cyberquill says:

    Advice? Yes. Luckily, your assignment was given in terms of minutes, not density of content or number of words. So I suggest you speak slowly and pause frequently to take pregnant swigs from a Stoli bottle you will bring the podium. This will not only add authenticity to your presentation, but you’ll also get away with saying less, hence less to prepare.

  4. Christopher says:

    Medvedev, visiting Britain a few days ago, said:

    “……I had told President Assad more than a year ago that he should act promptly and carry out reforms and, most importantly, build a relationship with the opposition, even though it may be difficult for him, even though he belongs to the Alawite minority, and most opposition activists belong to a different branch of Islam. Syria is a very complex state. It’s much more complex than Egypt or Libya because of all the communities living there: Sunnis, Shia, Alawites, Druze and Christians. They will either find a way to get along or civil war and killings will go on indefinitely. So both sides are to blame. They should come to the negotiating table and find a solution to this very difficult problem. I don’t know what the future political situation in Syria will be like, and I don’t know what role Mr. Assad will have in this future arrangement. It’s up to the Syrian people to decide…….”.


    ”…….I said from the very beginning that we would adjust our approach because of what happened with Libya. When the resolution on Libya was adopted, we thought our countries would hold consultations and talks and at the same time we would send a serious signal to the Libyan leader. But unfortunately it ended up the way it did. They kept telling us there would be no military operation, no intervention, but eventually they started a full-blown war that claimed many lives. And most importantly, I think it is a bad way to determine a country’s future. We all share democratic values, but imposed democracy usually does not work. Democracy must grow from inside. Only then does it enjoy popular support. So, what happened with Libya has definitely affected my position and continues influencing Russia’s position on the Syrian conflict……”

    So, Mevedev made the point that Syria, because of its ethnic and cultural makeup, is far more complex than many other important states in that area. Hence, in the absence of a peaceful settlement, full-scale civil war will likely happen.

    From what I’ve gleaned, 74% of Syrians are Sunni, 12% are Alawis, 12% are Christians of various kinds, and the rest are Shias, Druzes and Kurds.

    According to a Vemiamin Popov, director of the Center for the Partnership of Civilizations think-tank at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, half the Syrian population support the current regime.

    The likes of former prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, who supports the Russian position on Syria, say that if Assad is violently toppled, a Sunni regime will probably take his place, and would persecute the various minorities, and all others who don’t share the opposition’s views.

    Primakov also invites us to think of the fact that Al Qaeda is fighting on the opposition’s side, and this is because it (Al Qaeda) is a Sunni organisation. So, if American, why would you support the same side as Al Qaeda?

    To get back to Medvedev, he stressed it was the Libyan experience that has prompted Russia to take its present position on Syria. UN resolutions adopted, like the one adopted on Libya, that talk about talks and consultations, can so easily morph into armed intervention leading to civil war, as happened in Libya.

    I need hardly add (but am doing so) that Russia, as well as the other Big Players in the Syrian conflict, are acting in their own perceived self-interests under the guise of altruism. As JFK famously once said of the US, we have no permanent friends, only permanent interests.

    Put some of the above into your presentation in the role of Vitaly Churkin, and your audience will be totally converted to the Russian position, and not to speak of their open-mouthed admiration of your performance.

    • Richard says:

      I learned much from your highly informed assessment of the Russian position, Christopher. What do you make of the allegation that rebels are being trained in Kosovo?

      We are faced, yet again with the intransigence of the dark side of human nature, it’s ambitions, the assuredness that it is always right and the interminable pseudo-justifications for its arguments and actions.

      It is tragical, though inevitable, I suppose, that this pattern repeats in the transactions of the UN. Would that one day flexibility, compromise and humility prevailed and that world leaders understood they are dealing with their own shortcomings but with differing manifestations. It is only by departing from entrenched absolutes and by realising they are not all-wise that those who have the destinies of others in their hands can hope to provide any relief.

      Time, as always, is too short.

      • Christopher says:

        “……Would that one day flexibility, compromise and humility prevailed and that world leaders understood they are dealing with their own shortcomings but with differing manifestations……”

        You are talking about men with the capacity to live the self-examined life. Unfortunately, these sorts of men are usually weeded out long before they might otherwise become world leaders.

      • Cheri says:

        The United Nations Security Council rarely gets anything done but posture. The undersecretary to the underundersecretary to secretary of underpants all argue about the definition of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Lots of posturing AND to think the United States pays for 75% of its budget. Oy.

        But…I shall carry on on Monday night.

    • Cheri says:

      Dear Christopher,
      Very helpful, indeed. Thank you for taking your time and interest to assist me. So far (thus my silence to the many helpful contributions)I have been reading a number of abstracts and newspaper articles, think-tank positions, etc. I watched Charlie Rose’s interview of Churkin last month. If you are interested, go to charlierose.com and watch it. That Churkin is good…very smooth English.

      It is true that Libya has informed the Russians. According to Eric Morris, the Russians felt they had been duped. I’m reading an interesting paper by R. Gowan from the Center for Cooperation out of NYU on that matter.

      To prepare for this little activity, I am only thinking Russian.

      I shall use some of the points you shared with me in the presentation, but remember, I must assume that most know this history when I make my remarks. Thanks so much.

    • Cheri says:

      See my comments below, Christopher. I accidentally entered them in the wrong box.

  5. imagenmots says:

    May I put in my two bits?
    1) Syria is not Lybia where there were less ethnic and religious groups to deal with. Yet there is shooting still in Lybia between fully armed rival militias belonging to various factions. Considering Syria’s religious and ethnic composition without a strong central leader pandemonium is sure to break out after Assad’s forceful removal..
    2) See what happened in Yougoslavia after Tito and is not yet over.
    3) A break up of Lybia would directly create a severe imbalance in the whole area, open the door to Al Qaeda and seriously compromise Israel and the gaz supply to Europe.
    4) Hence the need to find some transitional solution acceptable to Assad and to the Oppsition; but that will not happen while the violence, on both sides, continue.
    5) Russia and Iran would gladly provide an interposition force between the belligerants in order to stop the violence but there would be a risk of de facto partioning Syria as happened in Cyprus and elsewhere, but it would stop the fighting and that is our common goal, is it not.

  6. wkkortas says:

    I suppose it would be disingenuous to bang your shoe on the table for the entire time and claim you were channeling your inner Khrushchev.

  7. Cheri says:

    Dear Mr. Wk,
    Tank you for ze idea. I may try it tonight if dat annoying Ms. Rice becomes overwrought.

  8. Richard says:

    So, how did it go?

  9. Cheri says:

    Hi Richard,
    Very well. I greatly appreciate the contributions that you, Christopher, and Paul made to my presentation. I included verbatim some of what Medvedev said in Britain last week. (Thx Christopher!)

    We met privately with Dr. Brown after the simulation and received our grade on the presentation. He told me my presentation was “extraordinary.” Coming from Dr. Brown, I blushed. I’m trying to put into words what I think of this man and his contribution to humanity.

    I didn’t really care what grade I earned. It was a privilege to be around his table.

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