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Why Russia is blocking international action against Syria

Russia has a strong financial stake in the survival of the Assad regime. But it also opposes Western intervention on principle – particularly in the wake of NATO's Libya campaign.

By Correspondent, Correspondent / September 19, 2011

Syrian women chant slogans and hold a placard that says, 'freedom,' in Arabic and Russian, at a protest outside the Russian embassy condemning Russian support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad and his regime, in Amman, Jordan, Saturday Sept. 17.

Mohammad Hannon/AP

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Beirut, Lebanon; and Moscow

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on the popular uprising against his rule, which has left some 2,600 people dead since March, has earned him opprobrium across the globe. But international efforts to pressure his regime further are unlikely to be enough to bring it down, so long as Mr. Assad retains the support of one powerful global player: Russia.

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A traditional ally with trade ties worth close to $20 billion, Russia has a strong financial stake in the Assad regime's survival. But Moscow's support goes beyond pocketbook issues. As a vast country that has seen its share of uprising and revolution, the one-time superpower tends to support autocracy as the lesser evil and is skeptical of Western intervention – particularly in the wake of NATO's Libya campaign.

As one of five veto-wielding members on the United Nations Security Council, Russia can block any attempt to exert major international pressure on Assad, whether through economic sanctions or military intervention.

“Russia is now a business-oriented country, and the Russian government obviously wants to protect the investments made by its businessmen in Syria,” Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the independent Institute of Middle Eastern Studies in Moscow. “But … the main reason in being so stubborn [blocking UN action against Syria] is because Moscow perceives that the Western bloc is wrecking stability in the Middle East in pursuit of wrong-headed idealistic goals. A lot of Russians are horrified at what’s going on in the Middle East and they’re happy with their government’s position.”

Russia has been a prominent defender of the Assad regime, dispatching delegations and envoys to the Syrian capital and warning against international intervention similar to the NATO-led campaign against Col. Muammar Qaddafi.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said recently that some of those taking part in the Syrian street protests had links to “terrorists,” while another senior Russian foreign ministry official said that “terrorist organizations” could gain power in Syria if Assad’s regime is toppled.

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