Moscow's attitude to Syria is primarily about world order |
Gulf Times - 06 July, 2012
For 16 months Russia has blocked UN action on Syria, upheld arms sales with the regime, and lashed out at any suggestion that a solution to end the bloodshed might include the departure of Bashar al-Assad. The initial line was that Russia was acting on national interest, holding on to its last big ally in the Middle East, a significant weapons client and host to its only naval base outside the former Soviet Union.
More than one year and an estimated 15,000 deaths later Russia’s true calculations are starting to emerge. While the Kremlin remains largely silent about its intentions, closely connected analysts have begun to speak out.
Their conclusions - that Russia objects to a Western-led world order and refuses to endorse a solution that would further the international community’s case for removing unpopular dictators - has overturned conventional thinking on Russia’s approach.
Ruslan Aliyev, at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said: “Does Russia really support Syria because it needs the base at Tartus and because it’s a valued arms customer? We came to the conclusion that no, that is not what’s driving foreign policy.” The consultancy found that about 5% of Russia’s arms deliveries head for Syria. The base at Tartus is little more than a small, rusted, port.
“In Russia, the elite relates very negatively to any attempt at western meddling,” Aliyev said. “There’s a fear that ... where the west and UN can change the government of whatever countries they wish the whole world will turn to chaos.” That Vladimir Putin is facing increasing popular discontent with his authoritarianism has figured in the Kremlin’s calculations, analysts say. The Kremlin has long been fearful of popular revolutions, blaming meddling by the US State Department and intelligence agencies for everything, from the revolutions that gripped Georgia and Ukraine at the turn of the century, to the Arab Spring.
The Kremlin has levelled similar accusations against the tens of thousands of Muscovites who since December have protested against Putin’s presidency.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, says his country’s stance on Syria does not hinge on backing Assad but he refuses to endorse any plan calling for the Syrian leader to go. Yesterday, he dismissed reports that Russia was talking to the US about offering Assad asylum.
Next week Lavrov will meet Syrian opposition leaders in the hope of starting “a dialogue between the government and all groups of the Syrian opposition”.
Dmitry Trenin, an analyst, recently wrote: “To Moscow, Syria is not primarily about Middle Eastern geopolitics, cold war-era alliances, arms sales - Syria, much like Libya, Iraq or Yugoslavia previously, is primarily about the world order. It’s about who decides. Not only do the Russians reject outside military intervention without a security council mandate; they reject the concept of regime change under foreign pressure.” Analysts close to the Kremlin point to other concerns, such as the estimated 100,000 Russian citizens inside Syria, a potential refugee crisis.