Thursday, December 13, 2012

Moscow's support of Assad will prove "surprisingly durable"!

Remember what the Russian ambassador in Beirut said over a year ago? "A compromise in Syria, means a compromise in our 'territories' and ultimately compromises in Moscow!"   
"... Moscow is deeply troubled by the West's increasing support for humanitarian intervention in internal conflicts such as Libya and Syria. It fears that this approach potentially sets a dangerous precedent for situations much closer to home, including on the territory of the former Soviet Union. While the Russians and Chinese were willing to give the NATO-Arab League coalition a pass on Libya (both abstained on the crucial U.N. resolution that authorized "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from Muammar al-Qaddafi's murderous regime), they are trying to hold the line in Syria. To their ears, U.S. claims about supporting the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people and other parts of the Middle East are a mere smokescreen for America's desire to promote regime change where and when it sees fit.
The Russians also worry about what might happen if events in Syria continue to spin out of control. The worsening security situation in the restive North Caucasus (which is basically part of the same neighborhood) helps focus their thinking. If Syria falls apart, the argument goes, it could easily become a hub for training and operations by Sunni extremists and even a potential source of loose WMD for like-minded jihadis in Dagestan and beyond.
For geopolitically inclined Russians, the crisis in Syria is largely about the emerging fault line in the Middle East between Sunni and Shia. If Assad is toppled, the impact on Iran's stature and interests in the region could be far-reaching. Moscow is worried about any outcome in Syria that makes military action against Iran easier to contemplate or increases the regional ambitions of Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Finally, there is the admittedly murky web of relationships between Russian and Syrian military and intelligence officials, which stretch back many decades. On the surface, the dollar value of some of these arrangements can seem fairly modest. For example, from 2007-2011, Syria was only the 7th-largest market for Russian arms, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, purchasing a mere 3 percent of the country's exports. The dilapidated, small-scale Russian naval repair facility at Tartus bears little resemblance to the strategically important Mediterranean port depicted in press accounts. But it's worth asking whether the parochial interests of the Russian security establishment are a big part of why the Kremlin is holding on to its longstanding partners in Syria so tenaciously....
Whatever the reason, we should not be surprised if Moscow's obstinance on Syria proves surprisingly durable.

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