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

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora