Are Russia and Syria more than civil?

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

The failure to reach an accord between the Obama Administration and the Russian government should not have been a surprise because the Syrian conflict is viewed differently in the West than in Russia, David Satter, the former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, alleges.

Satter, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), recently wrote an an essay for FPRI about the stalemate over the Syrian civil war between the West and Russia. Though Russia wants to remain at arm’s length in situations such as the Houla massacre, where 108 people were massacred, at least a third children, they continue to support actions and regimes that defy the West, Satter, who is listed on the faculty at Johns Hopkins, notes.

Despite the optimism of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her State Department, the Houla massacre did not inspire a change in Russian policymaking, Satter, who is also a fellow at the Hudson Institute, observes. Instead, it only affirmed the resolve of Russia to support the Assad regime and stall for time in the UN Security Council, Satter, the author of several books on Russia, observes.

Why does Russia continue to thumb its nose at the West regarding Syria? According to Satter, it is because Russia wants to remain a major world player and resist the West in any way possible. Also, it allows Russia to be a major arms supplier and to curry favor with Russians at home in resisting the West. Russian officials even cite their position as one of defending international law, while sending a Russian fleet to the Syrian port city Tartus as a show of solidarity (though others may not see it that way; it is what it is). In addition, about 10% of Russia’s arms sales, valued at approximately $1.5 billion,  go to Syria,. Most of it consists of attack helicopters, tanks, jets and other combat vehicles, which are armed to the teeth and can be used to deter international intervention. Russia is forcing the West’s hand and is baiting it to intervene in Syria as it did in Syria. Because Russia did not sign onto sanctions, it continues its shipments without batting an eye.

Syria plays to the Russian public just as the 2008 Georgian conflict did; Russian people love resisting the meddling Westerners. The 2008 Georgian war, to the Russian people, was a verdict on Georgia joining NATO. Russians cannot stand NATO or the West. The most worrisome part, says Satter, is that the escalation of violence and tensions in Syria is a warning to the US and the West. Russia, under Boris Yeltsin, carpet bombed the Chechnyan city Grozny and killed about 20,000 people. The Beslan school hostage crisis was ended when Russian soldiers used flame throwers and grenade launchers on the school, killing hostages an hour after both sides agreed to negotiate. The West must realize that the Russians will not wallow around in crises, unlike the West.

Putin, by supporting Assad’s Syrian regime, will continue to support authoritarianism to defy the West and increase his popularity among the Russian people by playing on their anti-Western sentiments. Anything that threatens the legitimacy and survival of authoritarianism also plays a part in his policies.

“On January 8, a Russian aircraft carrier group led by the Admiral Kuznetsov made a visit to the Russian naval supply base in the Syrian city of Tartus, which has existed since the Cold War,” Satter explains. “Russian naval officers said that the carrier group visit was not connected with the ‘internal Syrian crisis.’” However, Russian state television said the voyage was a demonstration of solidarity with the Assad regime and the Assad regime also depicted the visit as a gesture of solidarity. A Syrian military delegation led by the defense minister General Dawood Rajiha boarded the Kuznetsov.”

Russia is calling the West’s bluff, and the question is how will the West respond?

Spencer Irvine is a research assistant at Accuracy in Academia.

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