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

Arab League Delays Forming Joint Force

Delay grows out of one of original obstacles facing pan-Arab force, analysts say: 'They may agree on the principle, but they continue to argue about how to implement the project' More

Pakistan Demands Afghanistan Protect Its Kabul Mission, Staff

Officials in Islamabad say Afghan agents are harassing Pakistani embassy personnel, particularly those living outside of mission’s compound More

US Survey: Trump Lead Grows in Republican Presidential Contest

Quinnipiac University poll shows brash billionaire real estate mogul with 28 percent support among Republican voters 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs