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Keep Calm - Taking world events in stride.

What's behind Russia's involvement in Syria and Iran? National interests.

Russia has spent political and real capital building alliances with Syria and Iran. It's not surprising that Moscow now wants to defend its allies' interests at the bargaining table.

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It should come as a surprise to no one that Moscow wants a place at the bargaining table, particularly in countries where it has invested a great deal of capital, political and the other kind, in supporting regimes that are supportive of Russian interests. This is what nations do.

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But when it comes to the twin crises in Syria and Iran, Russia’s determined efforts to stand up for Damascus and Tehran are perceived by the West as especially destabilizing and dangerous. For one thing, several of Syria’s neighbors, including Turkey, have hinted they would be willing to take their military into Syria to create a humanitarian corridor to protect refugees within Syrian territory and stanch the flow of refugees into Turkey. But that move could be seen as provocative and create other political problems. Israel, similarly, has hinted that it has a few bombs that were just made to be dropped on Iranian nuclear facilities, which Iran insists are purely for civilian energy production.

But it gets more complicated when one stops thinking of the actions of nation-states, and starts thinking about smaller but more nimble militant groups such as Hezbollah, which often have their own specific interests to protect. Both Syria and Iran are close financial and diplomatic backers of the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah, and any threat to those two regimes might be seen by Hezbollah as a threat to them as well. Hezbollah has not been shy about reminding the international community of its capabilities to act well outside the Lebanese borders. And the international community has signaled that it has received this message, loud and clear.  

“We do not know how events will unfold,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during a speech in Indonesia, as reported by the Associated Press. “But we do know that we all have a responsibility to work for a resolution of this profound and extremely dangerous crisis ... a crisis that has potentially massive repercussions for the region and the world.”

So is it naïve to take Russia’s involvement in the Syrian and Iranian crises at face value, as merely an effort to persuade two regimes to seek peaceful solutions through dialogue? Perhaps. But when nations have spent time and money to develop alliances in a crucial region, it’s naïve to assume they won’t take measures to defend those interests.

Keep Calm, a winking reference to the World War II slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On," is a new blog that aims to provide a bit of context to help make sense of confusing news events.

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