News / Middle East

Would the Loss of Ukraine Harden Russia Policy on Syria?

FILE- Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, on Dec. 17, 2013
FILE- Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, on Dec. 17, 2013
Why do despots invariably have such atrocious taste?  Ukrainians wandering wide-eyed through the palace outside Kyiv of fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych simultaneously marveled and gagged at the gilded furniture, stuffed dead cats and gold bathroom fixtures. But their elation at overturning their corrupt, if elected, president could fade quickly if Russia’s elected, if authoritarian, president Vladimir Putin decides that Ukraine cannot be allowed to turn west in its political and economic orientation.
Like the Soviet leaders he resembles, Putin seems desperate to retain what remains of Russia’s regional and global influence. That is presumably why he backed Yanukovych all these years, mobilized troops Wednesday on the border with Ukraine for military “exercises,” and appears to have given the Ukrainian president safe haven in Russia.  It also explains, in part, Putin’s refusal to end Russia’s support for the blood-stained Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad.
Before the Sochi Olympics, some in the West speculated that a successful, terrorism-free Games would increase Putin’s self-confidence sufficiently that he would soften policy toward Ukraine and Syria. One positive outcome was Russia’s agreement – on the eve of the closing of the Olympics – not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that urges all sides in Syria’s civil war to allow humanitarian access to civilians for the delivery of urgently needed food and medical supplies.
The resolution – the first the Russians have allowed in three years on Syria – also demands that combatants “cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs, and methods of warfare ... to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.” It threatens “further steps” if the resolution is not implemented but does not specify what those might be.
However, Russia’s behavior at recent Geneva talks showed no diminution of support for Assad in contradiction to Russia’s previous agreement requiring multilateral negotiations to focus on a post-Assad political transition. The tribulations of the Yanukovych government in Ukraine could make Putin even more loath to jettison his old ally in Syria.
Russia is right to be concerned about the character of the Syrian opposition and the rising profile of Sunni militant groups. However, by refusing to shape a new government for Syria, Putin and his diplomats are insuring that the civil war continues to act as a magnet and school for jihadists from his own country as well as elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East.
According to U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, there are now more than 7,000 foreign fighters in Syria opposing the Assad regime.

Vitaly Naumkin, director of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, has written that  hundreds of people from Russia have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and other jihadist groups. They include ethnic Russians and 250 from the restive province of Chechnya alone. There are fears that some may return to Russia to commit terrorist acts, such as the bombings that preceded the Sochi Olympics.
The longer the war goes on, the more Syria will become a hothouse for extremism and violence and the bigger the political vacuum will become.
 A four-month study conducted recently showed that the Syrian government and the externally-based opposition – which failed in Geneva to come to any accommodation – together have the support of less than 15 percent of the residents of Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city. ISIS controls a fifth of the city’s neighborhoods, the study said, although it has alienated many Syrians and is being confronted by other Islamic groups, including al-Qaida’s official affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front).
David Kilcullen, founder of Caerus Associates which organized the study and an Australian counter-insurgency expert and former aide to retired Gen. David Petraeus, said at a Washington forum earlier this month that Nusra is using tactics perfected by groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah to attract  support by providing social services to those under its control.
“If al-Qaida and Hezbollah had fallen in love and gotten it on, their love child would be Jabhat al-Nusra,” Kilcullen said.
While no country is volunteering troops to pacify a collapsing Syria, the international community cannot allow the war to go on indefinitely. Despite generous contributions from the United States, the price tag for caring for refugees is too high and the ramifications of a lost generation of young Syrians too frightening to contemplate.
Somehow Putin must be convinced that Russia will ultimately lose more than it gains through association with unsavory regimes like those of Yanukovych and Assad. Gilded palaces cannot protect such men from the wrath of their people – and those who are brave enough to rise up will remember who sided with and against them.

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

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Comment Sorting
by: mig from: tx
March 02, 2014 12:28 AM
The writer of this article was day dreaming when he wrote this, it is far from reality and full of lies ,all of who only an ignorant would believe.

by: Anonymous
March 01, 2014 6:46 AM
What would happen if majority of Russia tried to overthrow Putin?
Would it be just like Syria?

I think the world will look at Putin differently once a warrant is out for bashar al assads arrest for his crimes in Syria. Assad must go to trial for his crimes against the Syrian Nation, he is a war criminal. Putin has been aiding and protecting the fugitive assad, who has been detaining, killing, and displacing Syrians.

The entire world will frown upon Putins actions including the Russian people, and likely less countries will want to do business with Putin at any cost.
This will not only prove Putin is up to no good, but also reinforce the people of Russia to stand even stronger against Putin for his acts. Personally I think they should remove him from power and elect someone entirely different (easier said than done of course) to promote business and peace if they want to prosper. The people of Russia will be standing up stronger than ever against Putin for his actions that do not represent the hearts and minds of the Russian people. His brazen stupid acts will have a negative impact on the population of Russia, not a positive one. Russian people are seeing now more than ever with their own eyes the true colours just who their so called "leader" truely is. He is taking the Russians freedom away more and more. Detaining opposition, is also not a good thing.

As a president, judging ones sexuality and banning the discussion shows disrespect for the people of Russia, they should be able to do what they want and discuss it with whoever they want. Since when does a leader decide someone elses sexual preferences and interests...

It's all about respect, Russian people are respectful, their leader isnt proving to be however.

What would happen if everyone in Russia tried to overthrow Putin? Would he sick his military on them? Would he kill them and detain them trying to force him out of power? very good question one must ask ones self.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
February 28, 2014 6:04 AM
It will definitely harden Russia's stand as well impact the nuclear negotiations now going on between Iran and the six world powers. Much more than ever, it's going to make Russia take a harder look at the international approach to the Iran nuclear program wherein Iran's Zarif has begun to talk tough - 'Iran nuclear program will remain intact'. This is because Russia will have resolved to become stronger for its allies who may be losing faith because of Russia's possible weakness in international diplomatic circles. Yes it will, as well as strengthen its resolve to gravitate toward improved relations with China while fortifying its position with Iran, Africa and South America, though it is touted that Russia is ambiguous about Iran's nuclear program's purposes and intent.

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