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.
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
Such comments, which echo those of the Assad regime, have been warmly greeted in Damascus. On Sunday, Assad welcomed the “balanced and constructive Russian position toward the security and stability of Syria.”
True, Moscow is not the only country expressing wariness at sudden change in Syria: the five-nation BRICS bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) recently declared they were against intervention in Syria and urged dialogue between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition. But Russia’s public and repeated defense of the regime has frustrated the Syrian opposition, which is seeking the support of the international community in its bid to oust Assad. Last week, Syrian protesters vented their irritation by staging a “day of anger against Russia.”
Why Russia backs Assad
Russia’s support for the Assad regime is rooted in self-interest, and calculates that Assad could yet prevail against the Syrian opposition movement.