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Mehdi Sanaei, Director of Russia Studies Group of Faculty of Global Studies; University of Tehran & Director of the Iran and Eurasia Research Center (IRAS)
Russia, along with China, has so far vetoed three anti-Syrian resolutions proposed to the United Nations Security Council by the Western countries. Their measure evoked immediate negative reaction of the United States and Britain and was followed by the imposition of arms embargo against Russia by the US Congress.
Russia’s firm stances in relation to developments in Syria have drawn the attention of political news and research circles around the world. As a result, great importance has been attached to analysis of the main reasons behind Russia’s unprecedented resistance against the West on the issue of Syria and the extent to which such resistance may continue.
Although there is no doubt that Russia’s approach to Syria has its roots in Moscow’s national interests, the stubbornness that this country has shown in the past few months and the allusion of Russian envoy to the United Nations to Iran’s regional power when opposing the proposed resolutions, calls for in-depth review of the current foreign policy approaches of Russia.
The most important factor which has given birth to Russia’s current approach in international arena is Moscow’s unprecedented suspicion of the United States’ goals and intentions in the Middle East and Eurasia. After Washington’s failure in “resetting” relations between the United States and Russia and the return of Vladimir Putin to Russia’s political scene as the new president, Russia has been faced with a set of unfavorable realities. It is now clear that the West is bent on deploying its missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. It is also obvious that the halt on the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been temporary and the sole achievement of the Lisbon conference for Russia was that the NATO did not put Russia on the list of its enemies. On the other hand, the most important role considered for Russia in Afghanistan is cooperation on logistics and intelligence.
The article published by Putin on the eve of the Russian presidential elections clearly showed his foreign policy mandate. Also, his recent remarks in an address to Russian ambassadors to other countries clearly proved that the confrontation between Russia and the United States has reached its climax and the Cold War literature between the two countries has once more come to the fore.
In that article and the aforesaid address, Putin took a direct shot at the United States by accusing Washington of deception and abuse of the UN structure and resolutions, applying double standards to various global issues in different countries, as well as seeking its own interests under the cover of advocating democracy.
Russia has reached the conclusion that the idea of bolstering cooperation with the United States on important world issues in return for considering a suitable role for Russia in the new world order, especially in the European security system, does not hold water anymore. Russian analysts maintain that the current foreign policy of the United States is based on two theories: “ultimate realism,” and “new liberalism.” As a result, the Americans actually believe that world countries are simply divided into the United States’ friends and enemies. Hostile countries, therefore, should be weakened and their presence in global and regional strategic arenas should be limited and even suppressed in political, economic and cultural terms.
The new liberalism also claims that all wars break out between non-democratic states. Therefore, all countries should go through an American style democratization process and if needed, military means such as preventive war, can be used to achieve that purpose.
As a result of the above arguments, Russia believes that the current political developments in the Middle East and North Africa are steered by the United States. Moscow firmly believes that a new wave of the world order has been initiated by the United States in order to create a new version of the past unipolar world system. The main targets of this wave, Moscow maintains, include North Africa, the Middle East, Iran, Eurasia, and finally China and Russia.
Both Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have frequently explained about the reason behind Russia’s current recalcitrant policy on Syria. In their comments, they have noted that the occupation of Libya has been a bitter experience which was made possible only through the Security Council resolutions for enforcing a no-fly zone over the country followed by military invasion against Libya. They have reiterated that such experience should not be repeated anywhere else in the world.
Another novelty in international arena which defies the internationally recognized rules and principles is holding regional meetings to make decision on changing the government in a given country.
Russia has asserted that compliance with international rules is an unwavering principle of its foreign policy which helps to create a multipolar world system. China, on the other hand, maintains that the structure and principles of the existing international world system are unfair, but they still help to establish peace and promote multilateralism at international level. In the meantime, while emphasizing on the need to resolve the Syrian crisis through the United Nations, Russia is strongly opposed to any possible resolution which would bring developments in Syria under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, thus, providing the West with an excuse for military intervention in that country.
It seems that the current crisis in Syria means more to Russia than simply losing economic interests and being ignored by the future political system in Syria. The Arab country has turned into an arena for strategic confrontation between the West and the East in recent months. Therefore, from the viewpoint of Russia, which has not been assigned a remarkable role in global and regional developments by the West, the course and final result of political developments in Syria will be consequential in determining the structure of the future international political system.
From the viewpoint of Russians, the Greater Middle East and the Greater Central Asia plans are being implemented within new contexts. Strangely enough, this time, they are being implemented by a new generation of Islamist figures. This reality has already ringed serious alarms in Russia and China over the situation in Central Asia, Muslim-dominant republics of Russia, as well as Xinjiang province of China.
The issue of Syria is only of strategic importance to Russia and Moscow’s support for Damascus is not a result of cordial relations between the two sides. Russia has proven that, whenever needed, it is skillful enough to employ pragmatism and profiteering in the service of its foreign policy goals. Russia’s sensitivity over Syria, therefore, is because the solution to the Syrian crisis will have a major impact on future political processes in the region and will also greatly influence global and regional balances of power.
Without any doubt, the Russian foreign policy approach is determined by various political circles inside Russia. This is why Vladimir Putin had to put the trip to Israel on top of the list of his foreign presidential visits. It is also obvious that cooperation with the United States and Europe in solving global issues in return for a sizeable role for Russia in global political system is Russia’s first and foremost foreign policy priority. It was for this reason that Vladimir Putin did his best to forge a strategic alliance between the United States and Russia in fighting terrorism following 9/11 terror attacks and his successor, Dmitri Medvedev, also made up his mind to rebuild relations between the United States and Russia. The first try by Putin was foiled as a result of the US effort to stage color revolutions in neighboring countries of Russia and the second try (by Medvedev) was also aborted due to the United States’ clear intervention in regional revolutions and its failure to abide by previous agreements with Russia.
The failure of strategic alliance thesis was made absolutely clear following the war in Georgia which followed a period of color revolutions and led to serious confrontation between Russia and the West. It was during the same year that for the first time after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, both sides clearly talked about a new Cold War. Since that time, Washington’s intervention in developments of Arab countries and new confrontation between the United States and Russia in Syria has come to the surface.
During the Georgian war in the summer of 2008, the United States and its allies showed more caution after they made sure about Moscow’s resolve and also due to the fact that Georgia was located in the immediate neighborhood of Russia. As for Syria, however, it seems that the dispute is more profound and extended and is of strategic importance to all involved parties.
However, it is noteworthy that economic limitations as well as industrial and technological needs have reduced Russia’s capacity for confrontation with the West. As a result, some veteran Russian politicians like Yevgeny Primakov maintain that Russia can no more prove its importance and power in global relations through confrontational means. Developments in the past year, especially after the occupation of Libya, have made Russia and China aware of the expansionist goals and intentions of the West. Therefore, while meticulously calculating the costs they may have to pay, they will try to have no part in the process of mounting pressure on Syria and confront the unilateral approach of the United States and its allies within the framework of their existing capacities in the UN as well as in global and regional arenas. Russia will also try following the war in South Ossetia to remind international community of the point which has also been highlighted by the American expert on Russia, Mike Spencer: “The United States should not treat Russia as Jamaica and remember that after the United States, Russia has the highest number of nuclear warheads in comparison to any other country.”
Source: Tabnak News Website – http://www.tabnak.ir/
Translated By: Iran Review.Org