News / Europe

Russia Seeks to Retain Influence Over Syria if Assad Falls

Russian President Vladimir Putin befor state-of-the nation address at the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Dec. 12, 2012.
Russian President Vladimir Putin befor state-of-the nation address at the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Dec. 12, 2012.
Russia's foreign ministry says Moscow's policy on Syria has not changed, despite a top diplomat's reported comment that Syria's opposition may win its battle against President Bashar al-Assad.
 
Authorities in Moscow say Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has not made any statements or conducted "special interviews" with journalists over the past few days regarding Syria. This conflicted with reports in Russian news media that quoted the minister as saying Assad is increasingly losing control of his country's territory, and that an opposition victory cannot be ruled out.
 
The purported Bogdanov comments were viewed as the first time that Syria's powerful supporters in Moscow were acknowledging that the Assad government might be crumbling after nearly two years of battling anti-government forces.
 
The Russian foreign ministry said Bogdanov was referring to claims made by the "Syrian opposition and its foreign sponsors, forecasting their quick victory over the regime in Damascus." Bogdanov reputedly made the remark to a Kremlin advisory body that was discussing issues in the Middle East and North Africa.
 
Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly blocked efforts by the United Nations Security Council to address the Syrian crisis.
 
Despite the Kremlin's denial of any change in policy, analysts say Bogdanov’s comments appear to reflect a strong Russian desire to maintain influence in Syria, regardless of the Syrian president’s fate.
 
Bogdanov left open the possibility of Assad surviving the rebellion and staying in power. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly shielded the Syrian leader from U.S.-led demands to quit.
 
Protecting Assad
 
Putin has vowed to oppose any U.S. and NATO intervention in Syria comparable to the Western allies' air campaign last year that helped Libyan rebels overthrow pro-Russian dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
 
Pavel Felgenhauer, a defense analyst with Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, says Putin has taken a rigid position on Syria, with support from Russia’s military and intelligence community: “Russia is with Mr. Assad until the bloody end, and maybe even after."
 
But Moscow also appears to be positioning itself to have a say in Syria’s future if rebels replace Assad with a more U.S.-friendly transitional government.
 
Vladimir Akhmedov, a researcher at Moscow’s Institute of Oriental Studies, said he sees Bogdanov’s briefing as a hint that Russia is ready to compromise with the United States on a Syrian transition.
 
“In Russia, it is not a secret. Everybody understands that Mr. Assad’s days are numbered,” Akhmedov said. “Moscow wants to know who [in a post-Assad government] can preserve Russian interests in a future Syria.”
 
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Dublin last week to discuss a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
 
Moscow is pressing for implementation of an international Action Group agreement six months ago that called for all Syrian groups to engage the government in a Syrian-led national dialogue and transition process.
 
The United States has said implementing the Geneva communiqué requires Assad to step down, but Russia has rejected that interpretation.
 
Alliance origins
 
Akhmedov said there are several fundamental factors involved in Russia's desire to maintain its influence in Syria, including a Soviet-Syrian friendship treaty signed in 1980.
 
That treaty led to the development of close ties between the Russian and Syrian militaries, intelligence services and political establishments.
 
The Russian navy has used a small logistics base in the Syrian port of Tartus for decades.
 
Russia also has clout in Syrian affairs thanks to the Arab state’s large number of Russian speakers — more than 100,000 before the current civil war — according to Akhmedov.
 
“Many Syrians, even rebel politicians and fighters, can speak Russian, because they studied in Russia or in Soviet-bloc nations such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan,” he said.
 
Thousands of Russians also have settled in Syria since the 1970s after marrying Syrians. Akhmedov said many of those Russian citizens were involved in building Syria’s infrastructure.
 
“After the rebellion, Syria will need to rebuild its ruined towns and cities, and Syrians know [from experience] that Russia can help again,” he said.
 
But not all Syrians may want that help.
 
Ostracizing Russia
 
Many Syrian opposition activists have expressed anger at Moscow’s loyalty to the Assad government. Some rebels even have warned Russians to leave Syria or face attack.
 
The opposition Syrian National Coalition also has turned to Western and Arab powers to seek aid for reconstruction. Germany and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to manage a fund for that purpose.
 
Russian journalist Felgenhauer said he believes that Russia’s future in Syria is bleak. “All this influence apparently will be lost together with the fall of Assad,” he said.
 
Akhmedov, the researcher, said Moscow has a reason to be hopeful.
 
“The Syrian mentality is a desire for balance. I do not think that Syrians want to stop all relations with Russia and put all of their eggs into the West’s basket,” he said.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
December 15, 2012 8:18 PM
As soon as Assad is captured or killed, pack your bags russia you are next to leave Syria. You aren't welcome on Syrian soil by the Syrians.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid