Recently Russia came under fire for allegedly providing Syria with more
missiles, considered a "game changer" in Damascus' ability to ward off
the specter of foreign intervention. A Russia-US peace summit has been
proposed to end the conflict in Syria, which has caused a reported
Taken at face value, it would seem that Moscow is
playing a duplicitous role, backing the Syrian regime on one hand and
pushing for peace on the other. Yet Russia has been acting consistently
in its foreign policy on the Syria crisis.
The latest outcry over
Moscow's bullish support for the Syrian government stemmed from a New
York Times article that claimed Russia had provided Yakhont cruise
missiles and S-300 surface-to-air missiles. The article was duly pounced
upon by the press as further evidence of Russia being an accomplice to
the murderous Syrian regime.
But did Moscow provide missiles this time or not? Russia's response was essentially "so what if we did?".
don't understand why mass media are trying to make a sensation out of
the fact. We do not conceal that we supply weapons to Syria according to
signed contracts," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
is Russia taking such a seemingly belligerent stance on the Syria
crisis? The Kremlin is not keen on a repeat of NATO's intervention in
Libya, which cost Moscow business and undercut its domestic and
international standing by allowing the overthrow of the Libyan regime.
may also view any intervention in Syria as a precursor for a US-led
attack on Iran. At another level, Moscow looks at the regime as the
lesser evil compared to the multi-factional rebels. It wants to prevent
Syria being taken over by Islamic radicals and the country turning into
an "Afghanistan on the Mediterranean."
Moscow's fear of an
"Islamist spring" and the rise of Islamic politics in the Middle East is
that it could cause ferment in its own backyard, the Caucasus, where
Russia has had a fraught history.
The church is also playing an
increasing role in Russian politics and foreign policy, with Moscow
willing to play the part of the defender of Christianity that secular
Europe and the US cannot overtly do.
Moscow also has interests
in Syria. The two countries have ties dating back to the Soviet era. Yet
Moscow's relationship with Damascus is not an alliance, it is one of a
client. Syria has nothing to really offer Russia in natural resources,
and it is not a financially beneficial relationship either.
Indeed, in 2005, Moscow had to write off $10 billion of Syria's $13 billion Soviet-era debt to sell more weapons.
the naval base at Tartous is frequently cited as a major factor in
Russia's pro-Syria stance, the facility is of limited significance,
hosting some 50 staff and modest docking capabilities, a far cry from,
say, the US naval base in Bahrain with over 5,000 personnel.
Syria's geostrategic positioning next to Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel is of clear importance, as is its 6,300
kilometers of oil and gas pipelines.
As for the Russia-US planned
talks, to be held in Geneva, this is consistent with Moscow's end goal
of a transitional government that involves the Bashar al-Assad regime's
Baath party and the opposition.
Russia's role in the talks is
crucial in bringing the Assad regime to the table. The struggle will be
to bring in all the opposition forces.
To do so, the talks
should involve more actors that are crucial in the conflict, namely
Turkey and Iran, as well as the primary financial backers of the rebels,
Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
If the peace talks are successful, the
Kremlin would have achieved its foreign policy objectives of preventing
foreign intervention and an Islamist Syria, as well as retaining a