Being heavily involved in and with Russia for almost 25 years, most of my attention has been devoted the dramatic events in Ukraine. I am appalled by Russia’s cruel and senseless warfare against a neighbour who only wanted the be released from the sticky grip of Kremlin. So what about Syria then?
I haven’t followed the war in Syria very closely, but I remember clearly the feeling I had when the conflict started and began to escalate. The Arab spring, which reached Syria in January 2011, and later escalated in March, could have been handled in a completely different manner by al-Assad, just by entering into a dialogue with the protesters in Damascus and Deraa. Instead al-Assad, in my opinion, listened to his Russian advisers, who persuaded him to use violence against the protesters. I don’t say that Syrian security officers didn’t give the same advice, I just firmly believe Russians played a significant role.
The main objective for Russia was, and still is, to preserve their naval base in Tartus, where 30,000 Russians are living and working. Without this base Russia will lose most of its influence in the region, which for Putin will be a terrible geopolitical defeat.
In February 2012 Russia and China blocked an Arab League-backed UN resolution which condemned the violence by al-Assad’s regime and called for his resignation. For Russia it was unthinkable to allow a change of regime. Two more Russian-Chinese blockings in UN followed after.
Russia has continued to assist al-Assad’s brutal attacks on his own people (in good tradition with his father Hafez), by sending weapons, ammunition and military “advisers”.
Again, I am far from being a Middle East connoisseur, but in this case we see another example of Putin’s regime leaving behind a trace of mayhem and disaster.