OP-ED - As the world’s eyes were focused on the Olympic Games in London and Bashar al-Assad's killer tanks and planes battered Syria throughout the summer, Kofi Annan's resignation went almost unnoticed. But when the UN peace envoy to Syria threw in the towel, it marked the end of a shameful fiasco. The affable Ghanaian diplomat and Nobel Peace Laureate, who has been both number one and number two in the international organization, displayed goodwill, humanitarianism and pacifism but yielded only catastrophic results.
As the UN’s number two, responsible for peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Rwanda, his passivity shielded the Hutu's genocide of the Tutsi people. In 1994, 800,000 civilians were murdered with machetes over a three-month period whilst Kofi Annan refused to send 5,000 blue helmets to stop the genocide. Ten years later, he released a statement saying he could have personally done more to stop the genocide. Rather than being punished, he was promoted to UN General Secretary, a post he would assume from 1997 to 2006. During that time, he stayed quiet as Vladimir Putin endeavored to slash the living population of Chechnya by a fifth.
Were we to believe that this tiny group of people of one million habitants included 200,000 terrorists? A similar silence met the North Korean famine (1998-2000), where mass starvation claimed between one and two million victims, leading to reports of cannibalism in the communist country. Kofi Annan, supported by democratic nations or not, was content to respect national sovereignty to an excessive extent: leaders can do as they please in their own countries, no matter the crimes they are committing. Only once did his compassionate heart twinge: he described Darfur as "hell on earth," when he condemned the government in Khartoum. However, not much changed. Infatuated with his important responsibilities: "We are the conscience of the world," he proclaimed in 1995 at the 50th anniversary of the UN. However, his resignation August 2 this year marked yet another failure.
Putin’s deadly cynicism: loud and clear
Whilst Kofi Annan went from failure to failure, Vladimir Putin has gone from success to success. He doesn't even try to hide deadly cynicism any more, which only escapes those who wish to ignore it. He officially declared that he would never give way to the supposed "liberal" Dmitry Medvedev, who was, and always will be Putin's little servant. He stubbornly reiterates that all the democratic opponents in Russia are a bunch of conspirators, paid off by the foreign secret services and especially the Americans.
Recently, he has bragged about having armed and prepared militias in South Ossetia since 2006, in order to attack Georgia, which says a lot about the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 and the crimes of the "militia" that the Kremlin swore were independent and out of control. However, to give some credit to Putin, otherwise an expert in lying and slander, one must note his absence of hypocrisy: he is a man who does not hide what he is doing, he asserts his power loud and clear.
What does it matter if Russia is failing to become modern and grow economically? What does it matter if it has reached impossible levels of corruption (on the same level as Zimbabwe) including a political and financial mafia? No matter its judicial and bureaucratic nihilism! Putin does not pretend, like the days of Marxist-Leninism, to promise a better future for his people. For Putin, his weapons of mass destruction are enough.
The post-Marxist prince is setting himself up as a global power by developing a nuisance strategy in every domain: from his nuclear playthings to his formidable arsenal of conventional weapons, used whenever he fancies.
These are phenomena that affect one another: the end of Annan's "world conscience" is directly correlated to the rise in Putin's power. The more the UN fails at protecting civilians (the 1973 resolution remains an exception and the rescue of Benghazi was David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy's doing), the more the grey zone widens where civilians are at the mercy of the fury of planes and tanks, and the more Putin strengthens his gang of despots, who are in the minority but nevertheless well armed: he is protecting them from outside intervention with his veto power in the Security Council, enthroning himself as the godfather of godfathers.
Making tyrants happy to the detriment of the people
Russia’s geriatric communist leaders have been replaced by a KGB member who knows neither scruples nor restraint. You have to be as naïve as a French diplomat or simply obsessed with elections, like Barack Obama and his European counterparts, to imagine for a second that the “butcher from the Caucasus” would bat an eye at the bloodshed in Aleppo, Homs or Damascus. "20,000 have died in a year!" cries the press and the NGOs. "Is that all?" Putin smirks, you can do better Bashar al-Assad.
After recent protests in Moscow, Russian leaders are determined to do everything to stop the "Arab spring" spirit from spreading to their streets. If Putin protects Assad, he needs to win to protect Putin in return. A bloodily repressed rebellion, like that in Chechnya, would serve as an example and a warning for the Russian people and its close neighbors.
There is no point in choosing another well-meaning Kofi Annan. There is no point in organizing conferences upon conferences and there's no point in taking the time to think about it some more, and then do nothing. There is no point in including Iranian mullahs, nor the Pope, in talks about Syria. As long as we ignore that the boss of the Kremlin wants to make tyrants happy to the detriment of the people, hell on earth will thrive.
For a year, Syrian civilians have stood up to a criminal and tortuous regime. It is true that they are not all innocent angels with clean consciences but as long as the rest of the word keeps abandoning them, unarmed, they will be forced to commit irreparable acts.
The drama taking place in the Security Council has gone on long enough. We cannot wait forever to see if Putin (and his Chinese comrades) ever becomes a little teary-eyed or if one humanitarian fiber in his body responds to the conflict in Syria. The failure of Kofi Annan is that of an idealist international community: for twenty years it has left its fate up to the phony unanimity of the Security Council, submissive to the diktats of Saint Vladimir, patron of the Lubyanka.
*The author is a writer and a philosopher.