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Yet Russian solidarity with Syria is more than an act of defiance against the West. It is also based on the cold logic that an international campaign to bring accountability to an undemocratic regime could be leveled against Russia, as well as Syria. Vladimir Putin is not Bashar al-Assad, even if Russia’s ruthless military intervention in Chechnya bears more than a passing resemblance to the Syrian government’s suppression of domestic opposition. But as the recent mass rallies in Moscow show, in the eyes of many Russians, Putin’s claims to democratic legitimacy are no more credible than Assad’s. It’s little wonder, then, that Russia has been so adamant in blocking regime change in Syria. As Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin revealingly observed this week, once Western countries begin initiating regime change “it is difficult to stop, then you will start telling what kings need to resign and what prime ministers need to step down.” Including, say, a certain prime minister with plans to reinstall himself as president.
In reality, any such Western effort is unlikely. The Obama administration, seemingly unwilling to accept “no” for an answer, continues to pursue its “reset” policy toward Russia. In the meantime, Russia’s intransigent backing for the Assad regime ensures that Syrians will continue to suffer. Since the government began its crackdown last March, over 6,000 people have been killed, the majority of them civilians. And the government shows no signs of backing down. Just last month, Assad vowed to use an “iron fist” to crush the Syrian opposition movement.
With their country on the edge of civil war, Syrians are in a precarious position. But with Russia effectively blocking any meaningful international attempt to intervene, the Assad regime need not count its days. For the foreseeable future, Russia’s “red lines” guarantee that the regime can continue to shed Syrian blood with impunity.
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