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Unlikely Change in Russia’s Stance on Syria

Photo Source: Al-Jazeera English

 

As Russia vetoed a Western-backed UN resolution imposing non-military sanctions on Syria as “unilateral” and directed only against the regime, it once again demonstrated that its position on the Syrian crisis remains unchanged, emphasizing its split with the West. The repetitive pattern of the Kremlin’s refusal to pressure regime change is often explained by personal sympathies of the Russian political leadership to its long-time ally, President Bashar al-Assad. Yet this seems to be a rather simplistic view that does not explain the complexity of the issue.

Russia’s talks with the representatives of the Syrian opposition earlier in July brought hopes that Russia could reconsider its support for the Syrian regime. Nevertheless, the talks followed the usual scenario with both sides reiterating their stance on the crisis: while the opposition leaders denied any possibility for negotiations with the current regime and urged Russia to give up its support for Assad, Russian representatives once again spoke against a forced regime change, calling for a dialogue between Syrian leadership and oppositional forces.

After all, the talks did not lead to any political decision as the parties’ viewpoints were somewhat mutually exclusive. However, they had a certain symbolic value for both sides: The talks demonstrated that the opposition was accepted and listened to in Russia — a major ally of the Syrian regime. In the meantime, they also allowed Russia to serve as a stage for an important discussion on a critical international issue.  The latter is the place where Russia has aspired to be for a long time, but has felt ostracized by global powers and bypassed on major decisions that it believed had direct impact on Russia.

As Russia is reaching out to the parties in conflict, it looks to break the stereotype that Moscow’s sole goal is to defend Assad.  It also seeks to be involved in ongoing discussions while defending the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of states. The latter is especially critical area for the Russian authorities as they are facing growing discontent and protests movement within their own country, which they perceive as a provocation from foreign governments.  Therefore, Syria could serve as a handy example for the Russian population to portray the chaos that the country is heading to as a result of internal uprisings sponsored by “foreign enemies.”

All that means that the Kremlin is unlikely to change its course on Syria in any near future for reasons that goes far beyond sympathies to autocratic regime or a desire to make things more difficult for Washington, but might have more to do with its own aspirations and ambitions.

 

Author

Ania Viver
Ania Viver

Ania Viver is an editorial/research assistant at WorldAffairsJournal.org. She recently graduated with a masters degree from the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall, where she focused on Foreign Policy and the South Caucasus region. Prior to moving to the US from her native Russia, Ania worked for six years as a trilingual assistant to the regional coordinator on international programs.

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