Bashar al-Assad, Putin’s Loyal Lapdog

What happens to Syria's strongman if Putin is deposed?

While most of the world recoils in horror at Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a handful of fellow dictators have been loyal to the Kremlin. One is the unspeakable Alexander Lukashenko, the semi-literate dictator of Belarus, and Putin’s lapdog who has even threatened to use nuclear weapons – presumably given to his country by Russia – to fend off the West. Lukashenko has said that his country would use such weapons “”and more” as conflict escalated against its ally Russia, according to AFP.

“If such stupid and mindless steps are taken by our rivals and opponents, we will deploy not only nuclear weapons, but super-nuclear and up-and-coming ones to protect our territory,” Lukashenko said last week.

Got that? Lukashenko will stand by his man, Vladimir Putin, and is prepared to deploy on his territory not just Russian “nuclear” weapons, but “super-nuclear and up-and-coming ones” to “protect our territory.”

“Protect” our territory against whom? It’s the Russians who have been doing all the invading in Lukashenko’s neighborhood. No member of NATO has threatened Belarus; no NATO member has any intention of invading Belarus.

And then there is Bashar Assad, who was saved from defeat in the Syrian civil war by the Russians, who in 2015 began to bombard the rebels who were then close to winning the war. Thus Assad owes his victory in the civil war and, very likely, his life, to his friend Vladimir Putin.

A report on Assad’s expression of fealty to Putin and support for Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine is here: “Assad says Russia’s Ukraine invasion a ‘correction of history,’” AFP, February 26, 2022

Syrian President Bashar Assad, in a telephone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday, praised the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying it was a “correction of history.”

Assad’s description of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “correction of history” must have pleased Putin, for it fits his world-historical view, his insistence that the breakup of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.” Greater, apparently, than World War II, which resulted in 60 million dead, greater than the Holocaust, with its six million dead – even though, during the breakup of the Soviet Union, so devoutly wished for by all the non-Russian republics in the Soviet empire, no one was killed.

Damascus is a staunch ally of Moscow which intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015 by launching airstrikes to support the Assad regime’s struggling forces.

Assad spoke to Putin a day after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on the orders of the Russian president, drawing strong international condemnation.

President Assad stressed that what is happening today is a correction of history and a restoration of balance in the global order after the fall of the Soviet Union,” said a statement from the Syrian presidency.

Assad also said that “Syria stands with the Russian Federation based on its conviction that its position is correct and because confronting NATO expansionism is a right for Russia.”

Though one hates to use Obama’s favorite phrase, about being “on the right side of history,” here it seems to fit. The entire civilized world is against Putin’s invasion. Even if, in the end Ukraine will be forced to surrender to the overwhelmingly more powerful Russian military, the Russians will not be able to hold Ukraine, with its 45 million citizens, in the long term. Ukrainians who were not able to resist the invasion will, in their humiliation and rage, be determined to resist a Russian  occupation.

Russia’s intervention in Syria marked a turning point in the conflict.

It enabled pro-regime forces to wrest back lost territory in a series of victories against rebels and jihadists involving deadly bombardments and massive destruction.

More than 63,000 Russian military personnel have deployed to Syria, Moscow says.

Assad has 63,000 reasons to be grateful to Russia. No wonder he’s in Putin’s pocket.

During Friday’s phone call, Assad said “Western nations bear responsibility for the chaos and bloodshed,” accusing them of using “dirty methods to support terrorists in Syria and Nazis in Ukraine.”

In the topsy-turvical moral universe of Bashar Assad, the Western nations that have not put a single soldier in the Ukraine are the ones who “bear responsibility for the chaos and bloodshed” in that country, rather than the 200,000 Russian soldiers who invaded Ukraine, with tanks and planes, and missiles, to satisfy the crazed will of President Putin, who wants to reunite as much of the former Soviet empire as he can.

And what “dirty methods” were used by the “Western nations” in Syria? Did they use such methods when they fought the fanatics of the Islamic State, a fight which Assad must surely have approved of? Were “dirty methods” used by the American troops when they protected the Kurds from being murdered by Turkish forces sent into Syria by Erdogan? Or did Western nations use “dirty methods” to pressure Assad to stop using chemical weapons on his own people, as he did in 2013,2014, 2015, 2016,  2017, and  2018? Weren’t those chemical weapons — “dirty methods” –used by Syria, and not by the Western nations that tried to end their use?

As for accusing the West of supporting  “terrorists” in Syria and “Nazis” in the Ukraine, in Syria it was Assad’s government that “terrorized” his own people with chemical weapons and bombardments of civilians it is Assad who supported, and was supported by, the terror group Hezbollah. There are no “Nazis” in the Ukrainian government, as Putin likes to claim and so, too, does his puppet Assad. Ukraine’s president is Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish and whose three great-uncles were murdered by the Nazis. If Assad wants to accuse governments of harboring Nazis, he should start with his own country, which for years gave refuge and jobs to such Nazi war criminals as the S.S. man Alois Brunner. During his long residence in Syria, Brunner was reportedly granted asylum, a generous salary, and protection by the ruling Ba’ath Party in exchange for his advice on effective torture and interrogation techniques used by the Nazis. He was also employed by the Assad family itself, to teach its loyalists  the same skills he was teaching Syria’s secret police.

The war in Syria is estimated to have killed nearly half a million people and displaced millions more since it began with Assad’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protests in 2011.

Bashar Assad has now tied his own political fate even tighter to that of Vladimir Putin. Moscow has made clear to Bashar al-Assad that Russia remains his main hope of staying in power.

If Putin’s gamble in the Ukraine, where he is betting he can not only conquer the country but keep it subject to Russian occupation, does not pay off, Putin will face a real challenge at home. Too many Russians have lost overnight much of their wealth because of Western sanctions; the collapse of the Russian stock market, and the deep slide in the value of the ruble, have been dramatic. The Russians may rally around Putin just now, but for how long will they support him, given that the Western nations have promised to keep those crippling economic sanctions in place as long as the Russians stay in the Ukraine? Putin seems impregnable, but so did Colonel Qaddafi, Zine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, and many others who were then toppled with ease.

And If Vladimir Putin were to be deposed, what would happen to his loyal spaniel Assad in Damascus, who called to congratulate Putin for his “correction of history”?

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