Source: Drawing by Niyaz Karim
the United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria
— proposed by Morocco and
supported by the United States,
the European Union and the Arab states — Russia has found itself at
loggerheads. What is even more dramatic, Moscow is now de facto dangerously
involved in the regional struggle between fundamentalist Iran and the Gulf
monarchies over the fate of Syria, Tehran’s proxy in the Middle East since the
Economic considerations are most frequently cited as a reason for the Kremlin’s
intransigence. Russia is set
to lose what it claims are $20 billion of investments, up to $5 billion of arms
deals and a naval station in the Mediterranean port of Tartus.
Yet I find the purely economic reasoning insufficient. The United States sunk tens of billions of dollars
but in the end had to relinquish its support for Hosni Mubarak when it became
clear that Mubarak’s position was untenable.
Moscow has to
balance its support for Assad with its larger interests in the Arab world and
the damage that could be done to its reputation. But the Russian attitude
toward Syria remains firmly
based on its experience last year over Libya and its desire never to let
anything along the same lines happen again.
The Kremlin seems to believe that it was deceived by the West after the Russian
delegation to the United Nations abstained from the vote on the UN Security
Council resolution 1973. Moscow’s
reasoning is that the resolution was instrumental in letting the NATO-led force
help the Libyan rebels oust Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Russia
lost several billion dollars worth of contracts in Libya, because it refused to
believe until the very end that Gaddafi was doomed from the moment the first
Royal Air Force plane took off to enforce a no-fly zone over the now-defunct
A very senior Russian diplomat told me not long before Russia vetoed
the Syrian resolution in the UN: “You have to understand! The Saudis and the
Qataris are pouring arms into Syria
to overthrow Assad!” He seemed to have conveniently forgotten Iran’s massive
support for Assad and Moscow’s own casual admission that it was sending arms to
the Syrian regime by sea, after Cyprus briefly detained a ship carrying nearly
60 tons of Russian ammunition and arms to Syria. Its is probably true that the
Gulf monarchies are supporting the Syrian rebels. But Moscow
refuses to acknowledge that the routes of what increasingly looks like a civil
war in Syria
are purely domestic and lie in the inability of the Assad regime to adapt to
Russia’s leaders appear obsessed with the threat of regime change. This notion has been anathema to the Kremlin ever since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and especially the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 are seen by Russia’s ruling class as examples of a subtle regime change by the United States, with the help of money channelled to Ukraine via NGOs like the National Endowment for Democracy. The recent wave of anti-government protests in Russia seems to have only strengthened the Kremlin’s conviction that the West is out to get everyone who does not toe its line. Moscow’s unconditional support for Bashar Assad, its impending falling out with the Americans and the Europeans over Iran and its newly-found alliance with China look to me as signs not so much of foreign policy realignment, but of domestic considerations projected on events abroad.
Konstantin von Eggert is a commentator and host for Kommersant FM, Russia’s first 24-hour news radio station. He was a diplomatic correspondent for Russian daily Izvestia and later served as the editor-in-chief of the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau.
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