Russia: Protecting expats and more in Syria

Syrians hold photos of Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin during a pro-government demonstration in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, March 4, 2012. (Photo: Freedom House)

By Dr Nicholas Redman, Senior Fellow for Geopolitical Risk and Economic Security; Editor, Adelphi Books

Russia is preparing to send two warships plus marines to Syria, as the civil war in that country shows no sign of letting up.

Russia has for months supported the government of Bashar al-Assad at the UN Security Council, blocking resolutions authored by Western and Arab League states to sanction Damascus and pressure Assad to step down.

Most of Russia’s motivations for doing so are well known. Firstly, it is determined to ensure there is no Security Council cover for any external effort to topple a sovereign government, whether by military or other means. The principle of non-intervention is one that Moscow is desperate to defend. Secondly, the government of Vladimir Putin has no wish to see another president – in the Middle East or the former Soviet Union – ousted by the mob, for fear the virus could spread further. Thirdly, it fears the regional destabilisation that could accompany Assad’s downfall. And fourthly, Russia has commercial, diplomatic and military ties with the Assad government that would be in jeopardy if the opposition came to power. These interests include arms sales, use of the Tartous naval base, energy-sector investment opportunities and a close diplomatic alignment with Damascus.

The latest dispatch of naval vessels to Syria is on one level a further statement of support for the Assad government and the interests that Russia wishes to defend. So too is the delivery of reconditioned military helicopters to Syria. Yet sending ships and marines to the coast of Syria also points to an interest that sets Russia aside from all other permanent members of the UN Security Council – it has people on the ground. Rather a lot of people, in fact. Read the rest of this entry »


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