Assad’s Faithful Ally

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As Syria’s regional and international standing has deteriorated amidst a bloody and brutal crackdown, one country has stood steadfastly in President Bashar al-Assad’s corner. Condemned by the international community and ostracized by the Arab League, Syria’s dictatorship has found a staunch ally in Russia.

Efforts to hold Syria to account have repeatedly run up against Russian opposition. Last October, Russia, backed by China, used its veto on the UN Security Council to block a resolution condemning Assad’s government for its suppression of anti-government opposition. Even when Assad stepped up the violence against his own people, Russia refused to spurn the regime. In December, Russia again blocked a UN resolution to hold Syria accountable for the violence. Just last week, Russia insisted that a draft U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Assad to step aside violated Russia’s “red lines.” While the U.S. and its Arab and European allies press for a resolution calling for Assad to step aside, Russia continues to champion his cause.

Russia’s support for Syria has been striking, not least because it is essentially alone in that support, but it’s not new. Russo-Syrian ties extend back to the Cold War, when the Soviet Union relied on Syria, then ruled by Assad’s father Hafez Assad, as a key sphere of influence. Situated just 400 miles from the Soviet Union’s southwestern border, Syria provided its Soviet patron with strategic and economic benefits. Access to Syrian ports at Tartus and Latakia ensured that the Soviet Union would have a direct link to the Mediterranean Sea. That strategic alliance was further forged with military sales. Between 1956 and 1985, Syria received $16.3 billion in Soviet military equipment, more than any other country in that time period.

Although the Soviet Union is no more, Russia remains a leading weapons supplier for Damascus. By some estimates, at least 10 percent of Russia’s global arms sales go to Syria. Current military contracts are estimated to be worth between $1.5 and $4 billion. Russia also retains its Soviet-era naval base in the port of Tartus. In a symbolic throwback to that era, just last month Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, anchored at the port. Syrian authorities welcomed the public relations opportunity, hailing the ship’s arrival as a “show of solidarity with the Syrian people.”

Russia also has other investments in Syria, including some estimated $20 billion in Syria’s infrastructure and energy sectors. The Russian engineering company Stroytransgaz has contracts with Syria’s state-owned gas company to develop technical equipment, build roads and lay miles of pipeline in Syria’s central region. Stroytransgaz is also building a natural gas refining plant just east of the Syrian city of Homs. It would not have escaped Russia’s notice that Homs in recent days has been the site of some of the most intense fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels, with an oil pipeline feeding a Syrian refinery among the casualties.

Oil is not what binds Russia to Syria, however. As the world’s largest oil producer and second largest exporter, Russia is not dependent on the Arab world for its energy consumption. Arguably even more than an economic interest, Syria is a status symbol for a country that has never fully abandoned its superpower designs. The collapse of the Soviet Union spelled the end of Russia’s ability to project power and influence through its client states but not its desire to do so. Deprived of its satellites, Russia made its mark by backing anti-Western regimes, whether it was Slabodan Mioslevic in Seria and the Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But as those regimes fell to U.S. and NATO interventions, Russian allies have become a rare commodity. “With the exception of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Venezuela, there are practically no countries that may be called our friends,” Russian political analyst Alexei Vorobyov recently told the BBC. One could well add Syria to the small list of exceptions.

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  • Fred Dawes

    wasn't he are best friend one time? this is getting to look like 1984, but soon we will be the enemy of the state.

  • Geneww

    Russia understands the impact caused from control by Muslims. Those trying to ruin capitalism welcome it such influence and control.

    The tenets of a Muslim society (Koran) hates everything that God loves and established. However, the Bible will stand since it is authored and preserved by God …


      Absolutely the truth, Geneww.
      The same thing that happened in Libya and Egypt is happening in Syria.

      Of course it looks like they are killing innocent people, but the facts are; They are fighting off radical Jihadists, this is all part of the "Arab Spring" where the Muslims want to take total control, and Hitlery wanting to help them should PROVE exactly what is happening.

  • KKKK

    Assad has many faults, however, he is certianly better than any potential Islamofacist regime that would come in the power should he abdicate. the Christians are treated badly by the Al-Qaeda-linked protesters.


      I agree, kkkk.

  • Lawrence Kohn

    Laskin omitted Iran from the circle of Russia's allies and overlooked its outreach to Hamas and its links to Hizbullah. There is nothing symbolic about its attachment to Syria. The article itself points out the continuity of Syrian-Russian alliance from the Soviet to post Soviet era. The fact is that the elite of the Soviet Union continue to control the country. In an effort to get into Western economic institutions and to revitalize its internal control the KGB led government transformed itself and retreated from direct control of Eastern Europe but never let go of the reigns of power. Now it is returning to its goal of hegemony and using its nuclear weapons modernization program to undergird its power. Syria and Iran play a key role in its return to the Middle East and it will accomodate itself to the rise of the Muslim brotherhood and make an effort to exploit the recent changes in the Middle East even as it tries to bolster faltering allies like Syria.

  • steven L

    The main reason for Putin to support Assad is to proetct Russian interests in Iran.

  • mrbean

    Putin regards Obama as not even a lightweight, a clown on a stage, and refers to him always as "Obambi" with a contemptuous laugh and scorns Hillary Clinton as an unkempt charwoman.

  • g_jochnowitz

    The USSR has fallen, but Putin remains a Marxist. Russia under Putin is part of the Marxist-Islamic Alliance. The Left licks Islamic a$$.

  • Marty

    Russian regimes have a long record of destroying their own people. The syrians have been tutored by russian power elites since the 1960s. They were taught well. It is a sad state of affairs that russia and iran are syria's strongest (and only) allies. Western democracies should be doing everything possible to de-stabilize the asad regime by supporting rebel groups. It is a really good idea to enable syria to completely disintegrate into several statelets based on ethnicity (such as the Kurds) and religion (based on a variety of islamic sects). russian and syria would lose their most valuable client state in the middle east and be somewhat less of a threat to the United States and to Israel.

  • Flowerknife_us

    Let them do unto each other as they do unto themselves. Outside of protecting the remaining Christan comunnity there is no sane reason to involve ourselves.

    "Protecting" Civilians has put enough of the fundimentilists in power already.

    The "civilians" are the root cause of the problem throughout the Midddle East.

    Let all these pious-peacful people fight for the tryanny they so worship while we prepare to deal with who comes out on top.

  • Fred Dawes

    We may still have the third world war.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    Like attracts like, Putin sees himself in Assad, ruthless and intractable without
    moral conscience. It can be said that both are evil men, money and power
    can be legitimate goals but when bad guys are in the mix violence and mob
    thinking comes out. The three do make for and axis of evil, Iran, Syria and
    Russia and in a big way, eventually someone is going to have to fight them.