In the Syrian civil war the Ba’athist government of Bashar al-Assad has few allies and many enemies. In this Civil war only two significant states
stand by Assad, Iran and another long term ally of Syria, Russia. Some have questioned this alliance; they ask why Russia supports Assad’s
government whilst the rest of the international community denounces him and his government. It is the intention of this thread to explore the
relationship between Syria and Russia.
In 2012 Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom wrote an article in the London Telegraph outlining the Russian position on
Syria, he said that:
I would like to make clear Russia categorically condemns any violence. The actions of President Bashar al-Assad’s government in the crisis can
hardly be called exemplary and the perception Russia is ‘‘blindly supporting’’ the Syrian authorities is mistaken……
So we believe it is crucial that the international community condemns not only the violence on the part of government forces, but also the armed
actions of the opposition; that it demands the political opposition dissociate itself from extremists and that armed opposition groups leave
population centres in conjunction with the withdrawal of government forces……
We are convinced that a one-sided condemnation of the Syrian government and its diplomatic isolation, coupled with unconditional support for the
opposition, are not conducive to a peaceful settlement but instead encourage the opposition to continue armed struggle instead of turning to politics.
Our western and some Arab partners are in effect taking one side in the confrontation, when the goal should be to help Syrians decide their future
independently through the political process.
The question then is why is Russia taking a view that is so different to the west who seem to be unilaterally supporting the opposition.
Many people simply state that the reason that Russia is so supportive of the Assad regime is because of lucrative arms contracts. While this is true
it is only a smaller part of a much larger issue, Russia has many reasons for wanting to stick with its old ally. The issue of arms is one such reason
however this is compounded by events in Libya and Iran. Russia is believed to have lost out to over $4 billion worth of arms contracts since the fall
of Gaddafi and up to $13 billion caused by sanctions against Iran who had weapons supplied form Russia. The new government in Libya is much less
friendly to the Russians and as such the Russian arms market has lost a big client. With the fall of Assad Russia would stand to lose another big
client, in the last few years Syria has bought almost $5 Billion worth of arms form Russia this only accounts for 5% of the overall arms exports of
Russia. The problem is what Russia sees as its arms market shrinking due to its former clients in the Middle East being released by governments that
are either pro-western or Islamist who are not willing to deal with Moscow and as such it is also the prospect of future loss of earnings.
There are other commercial interests that Russia has in Syria; it may at first seem to be a minor interest however it is worth noting. The Russian oil
company, Storytransgaz has in the past been awarded $1.1 billion worth of contracts and has a $12 million contract currently for the construction of
an oil pumping station. In addition to this Assad is also reported to have amassed up to $1.5 billion in offshore banks many of these are in Russia
and Hong Kong, as such it is possible that Russian banks could stand to lose money should Russia act against Assad. These economic factors individual
may not be significant but when viewed as part of a bigger picture they are substantial although they are not the only reason behind Russia’s
standing in Syria
Russia also has a significant interest in Syria for its own national security; Russians only remaining naval base outside of the former Soviet Union
is located in Syria, the port of Tartus. It is understood that this facility is a maritime technical support unit that may have up to 600 members of
the Russian navy stationed (the exact number is unclear) . In addition to this Russia’s only electronic surveillance station inside the Middle East
is located inside Syria, if Russia where to lose this then they would lose their ability to collect Singles intelligence inside most of the Middle
East. The fact that Syria has traditionally been Russia’s only stable ally in the Middle East is regarded as another national security consideration
in supporting Syria as it offers some protection to Russia’s southern flank.
The Russians can justify this by pointing out that American has been on the whole very quiet regarding Bahrain, where America has a port and a few
years ago America also quietly lifted a ban on military aid to Uzbekistan. Interestingly, Uzbekistan is necessary for NATO supply lines into
Afghanistan. The point out that America and the west are very apt at taking action against state they disapprove of with the opportunity arises yet
are very quiet when criticizing their allies in the Middle East such as Saudi-Arabia and Bahrain.
Again however national security considerations are only part of Russia’s reasoning behind supporting Syria.
The biggest motivation guiding Russian foreign policy towards Syria is political and guided by three main factors; the wests response to Libya,
undermining the actions of the west and finally Russia’s strong believe in total national sovereignty.
To start with one has to understand that Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union has developed a foreign policy of “total sovereignty” they
believe that all states should have the right to determine their own future without the interference of any external state, including the west. The
conflict with the west arises when Russia takes a view that a states right to total sovereignty means that the leaders of said state can effectively
act in any way they want regardless of the harm they do unto civilians so long as it is still in Russia’s interests they have adopted a principle of
non-interference that is paradoxical to western policy.
This ties in with the other issue that Russia has, Russia does not want what has happened in the rest of the Middle East to happen to Syria. They
believe that the west in Libya used UN resolution 1973 to use the no-fly zone as a cover to use air power to enforce regime change. More so they
believe that the secular leaders of Arab state are being replace with Islamist leaders. For Russia this presents several problems due to Russia record
in fighting Muslim forces in Chechnya means that Russia is just as paranoid about Terrorism as America. For Russia the replacement of Russian friendly
secular leaders with Western friendly Islamic leaders sends a message to the Kremlin that these states oppose Russia and will be sympathetic of the
cause of the Chechens. This could have two effects, firstly that Russia’s commercial ties with these states are restricted and furthermore these
states begin to provide more support to Chechnya and the Russian Caucasus.
edit on 11-1-2013 by OtherSideOfTheCoin because: (no reason given)