When their interests in the Middle East started to be affected, the Kremlin harshly reacted to the development, and it is not eager to allow any foreign intervention into Syria and the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia had exhibited a similar attitude by giving the green light to Eastern European countries’ becoming members of the European Union and NATO in the wake of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
However, when the wave of colored revolutions reached Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and other former Soviet republics, which the Kremlin sees as the near abroad, it resulted in clashes in South Ossetia. In the end, the Kremlin was able to reinforce its interests in this region.
As for the Syrian crisis, Russia has the upper hand. First of all, the US, whose prestige has been greatly damaged in Afghanistan, is not able to take serious actions against the al-Assad regime. US President Barrack Obama, who will run in the presidential elections in November, has postponed all problems with Russia, including the missile shield issue, until his second term of office.
The EU countries, struggling with the debt crisis, are not able to control the process, starting with the revolutions in North Africa. The Kremlin managed to overcome the 2008 global economic crisis with the least damage thanks to its oil and natural gas revenues. Moreover, with the re-election of Vladimir Putin as president, Russia has attained political stability. Now, Russia is trying to gather former Soviet republics around the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) and increase the influence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the international arena.
Syria is a second Georgia
The Kremlin, which considers Syria to be a second Georgia, wants to keep its only naval base outside the former Soviet Union under its control and protect its interest in the region.
Russia also is concerned that introduction of radical Islamic regimes in the Middle East would encourage the Muslim republics and separatist movements in the Caucasus to revolt. To promote the tradition of changing the regime of a country through foreign intervention is the red line for the Kremlin. Russia, which claimed after the presidential elections held in December and March that anti-Putin protests had been sponsored by external forces, believes that opposition groups in Syria are being armed by foreign powers.
As a result, the Kremlin, which will be warm to a regime change though a foreign intervention only if it controls the process, seeks a peaceful settlement in Syria. However, Russia does not openly lend support to the Assad regime but demands that all parties should take their places at the negotiating table in order to solve the problem together. In fact, Russia lent great support to international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan and has been working hard to keep the plan alive.
Russia is preparing a new summit on Syria with the participation of Turkey, the Arab League and the permanent members of UN Security Council, and insists that regime change should be done through constitutional methods. Putin, who attended the G-20 Summit in Mexico after his election and held bilateral talks with the world leaders including the US President Obama, reiterated that Russia will not allow a foreign intervention into Syria. Despite UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s remarks claiming Putin would change his attitude on Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected the claims by saying there is no change in Russia’s position on Syria.
Weapon shipments to Syria will continue
Arguing that the continuous focus on Russia’s weapon shipments, which are conducted within the frameworks of international agreements, is an attempt to put pressure on Russia, Lavrov stated that the weapons that Russia shipped to Syria are defense systems which cannot be used against civilians.
On the other hand, Lavrov has confirmed that a cargo ship, which was forced to turn back to Russia by British authorities, was carrying three Mi-25 attack helicopters that have been refurbished under a contract with Syria signed in 2008. Lavrov also added that any a foreign intervention into Syria will give rise to the spread of ethnic or religious conflicts in the region.
Russia’s new foreign policy
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Yelena Suponina, head of the Center of Asian and Middle Eastern Affairs at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, stated that Russia will never allow foreign intervention in Syria.
Recalling Russia’s right to veto in the UN Security Council, Suponina said: “It was expected that after the presidential elections held in March, Russia would change its attitude regarding the issue of Syria. Russia’s foreign policy will not change. This is not only about Russia’s Syria policy; it will apply to all of Russia’s new foreign policies.”
According to Suponina, Russia is aware of Turkey’s influence over the Syrian opposition, and this is why Turkey has been invited to the Syria summit organized by Russia. Noting that she has interviewed members of both the Assad administration and dissident groups in Syria, Suponina expressed her pessimism, saying the summit will fail to create an atmosphere of peace in the region because of a difference in the attitudes of the two sides.
Gumer Isayev, director of the St. Petersburg-based Center for Middle Eastern Studies, told Sunday’s Zaman that the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad through foreign intervention would create an atmosphere of chaos in the region.
Isayev argues that those who want the downfall of the regime in Syria to be brought about by foreign intervention do not care about the stability and security of the region. He added that Iran and Syria are new centers of power in the region as a result of their geopolitical positions, and therefore the Kremlin is taking strategic steps.
During the recent G-20 summit in Mexico, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Putin to discuss the Syrian crisis. Erdoğan has announced that both he and Putin have directed their foreign ministers to cooperate on the Syrian issue. Now, all eyes have turned to the joint work by these two foreign ministers and the international summit that will be held under the leadership of Russia to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.