Why Russia is so opposed to asking Assad to go
Russia is taking a hard line against a UN resolution asking Syrian President Assad to step down, saying the possibility of military intervention must first be ruled out.
Russia has warned that there is "no chance" it will allow passage of a resolution on the spiraling domestic conflict in Syria, due to come before the UN Security Council in the next few days, if it leaves even the slightest opening for outside intervention in the crisis.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Moscow's tough line on the issue has put it increasingly at odds not only with the West, but also many Arab states who support a resolution put forward by Morocco that would demand Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad step aside and hand power to his deputy as a first step toward a democratic transition. According to the UN, more than 5,400 people have died in an increasingly brutal crackdown since pro-democracy protesters first took to the streets almost a year ago.
The Syrian government blames the violence on armed "terrorists" affiliated with Al Qaeda, who it says have killed more than 2,000 security personnel since the uprising began.
"This [draft resolution] is missing the most important thing: a clear clause ruling out the possibility that the resolution could be used to justify military intervention in Syrian affairs from outside," Russia's envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying Wednesday.
"For this reason I see no chance this draft could be adopted," he added.
Russia is one of five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, so unless it can be persuaded to at least abstain, there seems no chance of survival for any proposal that involves outside political interference, sanctions, a Libya-style no-fly zone, or even a military-backed humanitarian corridor aimed at getting supplies to stricken Syrian civilians.
Syria has been a political partner and key regional client state of Moscow since 1971, and is the last remaining major customer for Russian arms in the Middle East. Over the past year, Russia sacrificed about $4.5-billion in broken arms deals with Libya, and lost as much as $13-billion due to UN sanctions against Iran, experts say.
"Moscow is afraid events in Syria will spin out of control," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow. "We have lots of economic interests that we stand to lose, but this is not the main thing. The loss of political influence is more important, because Syria is the last point in the Middle East where Russia has a major role to play.... Russia fears that the US is out to engineer regime change in this strategic region, and Russia is simply not going to play any part in granting authority for that."
Reflexive opposition to foreign intervention
The Kremlin has always reflexively opposed foreign intervention (unless the subject was a Soviet satellite country), which in the past was equated in ideological terms with Western colonialism and imperialism. Post-Soviet Russia has cooperated occasionally with the West, as it did in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but often came away feeling that its interests were ignored or overridden by the triumphant West.