Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Russia's Syrian Power Play

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Russia's Syrian Power Play

Article excerpt

Russia has economic and military reasons to support Assad, but the primary motive is to show that it's a global player.

Russia has been steadfast in its diplomatic support for the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as Assad becomes ever more isolated within the Arab League and the international community.

The Kremlin sent a strong message earlier this month when its aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, anchored off the Syrian port of Tartus. Then last week, Moscow said a draft resolution introduced at the U.N. Security Council by the Arab League calling on Assad to step aside "crosses our red lines."

Russia's support for Syria dates back to the days of the Soviet Union. The continuing partnership can be attributed to several factors -- historic ties, economic interests and geopolitics.

Recent Russian arms sales to Syria are worth $4 billion, including fighter jets and advanced missiles. Russian business investments in Syria encompassing infrastructure, energy and tourism amount to nearly $20 billion. A natural gas processing plant about 200 kilometers east of Homs is being constructed by a Russian engineering company, Stroytransgaz.

But financial investment carries only so much weight in the face of international criticism. The United States, for example, had billions invested in the Mubarak regime in Egypt, yet halted its support as protests mounted.

Russia has refused to follow suit in Syria, demonstrating a willingness to absorb criticism. For the Kremlin, it appears more important to demonstrate a confident and sovereign foreign policy in defiance of the West.

Russia has major geopolitical and strategic considerations that dictate supporting Damascus. As the world's largest oil producer and second largest exporter, Russia is in no need of oil supplies from the Arab world. Moscow also reaps the benefits of controlling regional energy markets. Russia therefore has no need to appease the predominately Sunni Arab bloc, which is currently acting in tandem with the West in opposing the Assad regime. …

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