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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.

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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.”

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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.

“In fact we see that there is no united opposition in Syria, nor is there NATO support [for the rebellion] as was the case in Libya,” says Georgi Mirsky, an expert with the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow. “Arab countries will never agree to even limited military operations against Syria [as they did in Libya]. The Syrian army is not split. Therefore, we see serious reasons to believe the Assad regime can survive. Even if it’s discredited, it could still hold on for a number of years. So there’s no sense of urgency in Moscow to change policies.”

Russia has long-standing commercial, military, and political ties to Syria. According to a recent article in The Moscow Times, Russian investments in Syria in 2009 were valued at $19.4 billion, mainly in arms deals, infrastructure development, energy, and tourism. Russian exports to Syria in 2010 totaled $1.1 billion, the newspaper said.

Other than lucrative business deals, Moscow is seeking to wield greater influence on the global stage after losing some of its prestige with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It traditionally opposes foreign interventions – which potentially can set precedents for Russia in the future – and serves as a counter-balance to the perceived axis of the United States, the European Union and NATO.

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