Russian Interests in Syria

The Cold War is over but Russia has found a new way to stay relevant, and it largely depends on the US not getting involved.

Assad and Putin

A decade after the invasion of Iraq, we look at conflict in the Middle East with a weariness that suggests that America is no longer willing to lead. This is a welcome change for a part of the world that is equally weary of American leadership.

Surely there are many in Syria, rejoicing that the US has decided not to liberate them just yet. But we would be remiss to assume that intervention is opposed by all. There is always intervention. Sometimes it manifests itself with troops on the ground. Leading up to that though, there is the scripted international dance of multilateral talks, negotiations, sanctions, no fly zones and air strikes (now with more robots!).

When Mubarak was deposed, a green light from the US Government, his greatest benefactor, certainly helped. Western European countries took the lead in arming and supporting the rebels who overthrew Gaddafi. Encouragement and sympathy for the revolutions from the external powers may irritate the entrenched regimes in the region, but it is the foreign money and bombs that often topple these governments. While North America and Europe dither (or butt out, depending on your preference), the survival and ruthlessness of Assad’s government can be credited, in no small part, to Russia.

The decade following the dissolution of the USSR was embarrassing for Russia. Having lost territory, population and prestige, it scrambled to consolidate what power it could still maintain. Increases in petroleum exports injected a new sense of wealth and power, albeit one tempered by new expectations. Whereas Moscow contended to be the capital of the greatest power on earth just decades ago, it finds itself taken seriously mainly because it has lots of fuel and big bombs.

For a country that once had proxies all over the world, any chance to flex its muscle in a smaller country’s war is a welcome opportunity, especially one in which the US has been vocal but otherwise uninvolved. That America’s hands are tied (both in terms of domestic appetite for intervention and international credibility) is music to Russian ears. The longer the war persists, the longer Moscow remains relevant, by supporting a regime that would otherwise have already fallen.

Russia has found a war that no other Western power is willing to touch (yet). It’s a sort of super-power-vacuum. Granted, they are not publicly happy about their weapons being used to kill civilians, but by posturing as the facilitator of diplomatic negotiations and the protector of national sovereignty, Russia is hoping to recover whatever it can in terms of international influence. The Cold War is over, but old habits are hard to quit.

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More to come on the involvement of Hezbollah and Iran in Syria.

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One thought on “Russian Interests in Syria

  1. interesting russia and syria have always been good friends… when i went to syria in 1999, the MIGs were grounded under dusty roofs in the desert bases, spare parts missing the army had all russian vehicles, now obsolete and decrepit also preet’s child books were all about russian kids amazing way to spread influence

    hugs

    r

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