Why Russia stays with Assad?


An analysis of the ongoing conflict in Syria may provide a good example of continuing struggle over the nature of national sovereignty in the international relations, to be more exact over the question whether it is still relevant to speak about this struggle as a present-day collision between democratic and authoritarian regimes? In this article an attempt will be undertaken to analyze why Russia, the UN Security Council member, opposes any tough sanctions against Assad’s Syria even though there are strong evidences of the regime’s crimes against its people.

By the end of the 20th century many political scientist who dealt with international relations came to conclusion that due to enormous growth in the number of non-state actors normal states will eventually lose its capability to influence the global affairs. With the number of states staying relatively small, international community faced the fact, that activity of multinational companies, passing most of the national borders, can not only bring benefits in form of investments, but also damage the internal balance as well, thus threatening to the sovereignty of a single state. The growing turbulence of the global political affairs resulted in several democratization waves that increased the number of states with democratic regimes, though there were some rollback-cases, the trend towards more democratic world was stable and clear. The demise of the USSR and collapse of the all international communist system, humanitarian intervention in the former Yugoslavia gave stimulus to hope for a better future in the world. The end of the history, as Fukuyama wrote, meant the humanity reached a phase when democracies can coexist peacefully.

However, there were people who didn’t share such optimism, reigning after the end of Cold War. Among countries who first discerned shapes of the new, led by USA world order was Russia. After unsuccessful attempts to stabilize country, Russian democrats of the first generation lost credibility of the population. People needed strong leaders, who could take responsibility to ignore gains of the peaceful democratic change in country. Genuine liberals, who failed to stabilize national economy, were replaced in the 2000’s by tough nationalistically thinking authoritarians, who lack secured positions domestically and internationally. To do the former was comparatively easy since there was absolutely no liberal opposition capable of working out political alternatives. Vladimir Putin’s two first presidential terms saw the drastic change in the foreign policy. Russia’s post-soviet experience gave a birth to a genuinely Russian ideological concept – so called sovereign democracy – a combination of a soft authoritarianism with attributes of liberal democracy, where national sovereignty or independence per se was a core principle aimed to project Russia as a power acting according to its own rules.

New Russian government, willing to protect itself from the growing influence of the global state players, decided to commit all the sources by expanding the implementation of international law onto many regional and global issues. This decision was justified by the assumption that politically powerful states can not influence less powerful or smaller ones (as Russia perceived itself at that time) due to limitations ranked in the international law, which sees state’s sovereignty as a core maxim. However, this idea wasn’t good enough since leading democracies succeeded in expanding its influence by engaging non-state actors and non-governmental organizations, whose activity isn’t fully or isn’t at all regulated by the international agreements.

The debate about the blurring of the state sovereignty by non-state players is projected by many scholars on the question whether the argumentation about dangers to national sovereignty must be answered with attention to the role of the UN. During the Cold War the UN has already proved to be an international tool of limited effectiveness, in the 1990’s the UN failed to prevent NATO operation in the former Yugoslavia that were carried out in defiance of the international law. For many authoritarian regimes it became clear then that the making-decision center of the world had shifted from the UN to the community of democratic states under the leadership of the USA.

Taken into account the Russian attitude and suspicion towards all western initiatives in the conflict resolutions, especially in the countries with loyal regimes, that often share the same authoritarian characteristics, no wonder why the Kremlin looks at the drama in Syria as a part of the western plot to shuffle Assad’s intractable regime and with the same strike to weaken Iran’s position in the region and make Iranian decision-makers be more compliant in the negotiations over its nuclear program[1]. Moreover, Russia sees weakening of Iran, whose regime is ranked as undemocratic, as a serious blow to its interests and special economic relations with Tehran[2]That is why steps of Russia on the international arena can actually be interpreted as a self-preservative instinct or mechanism that it learned in the 1980-1990’s when while losing its geopolitical influence globally witnessed how western democracies used strategy of regime change under the pretext of humanitarian operations to create positive conditions for democracy transition. Moscow understands that after Syria and Iran it may be its next turn to make compromise with international community and its own people.

Russian government tries to act pragmatically in the Syrian conflict and not to earn reputation of a dictators’ defender while protecting its interests in the country and minimizing the losses of its failed Middle East politics[3]. As an argument against any kind of military or humanitarian operations Russian diplomats say that it would no way contribute to the regional stability. The fall of regime didn’t create stability in Libya, Syria will definitely suffer the same fate: in a country with a number of different religious and ethnic groups that often have opposite interests, elimination of the stabilizing political center can provoke the civil war[4] the same as in Iraq[5].

Being supporter of the UN as a globally acting multinational body and having permanent seat in the Security Council, Russia advocates UN-led initiatives in resolution of conflicts, where the danger of military intervention comes on the scene[6]. Kofi Annan’s plan in Syrian crisis was the first achievement of Russian diplomats, because it temporally ruled out the possible foreign intervention[7], as it was in Libya where despite all Russian protests NATO-forces interfered in the conflict bypassing the UN Security Council’s resolution that didn’t foresees any such steps. Russia’s stance in the Syrian conflict demonstrates its attitude towards national sovereignty, where there is no place for international intervention in critical situations, let alone for regime change. Moreover, there are many other countries like China who share the same views on the national sovereignty. This partly explains why Russia and China and more broadly BRICS-countries don’t openly support Syrian opposition represented by Syrian National Council, Friends of Syria or Free Syrian Army, and don’t participate in numerous forums, designed by USA and its allies in the region. Recognition could be perceived as a compromise of official Syrian government.

Despite all good intentions Russian diplomacy has in the Syrian crisis, undertaken steps seem very discrepant and Russia’s sincerity lacks cogency. While it is railing against the humanitarian intervention in the Syrian crisis and promotes peaceful resolution under the auspices of the UN, Russian government forgets its support for the South-Ossetian separatist republic during the military conflict with Georgia in August 2008, when military actions resulted into violation of the Georgian sovereignty. All in all, Russian steps are designed by the calculation that crisis in Syria partly defines the future of Russia itself. Russia, unless it experiences democratic change and thus the change of the existing regime, will continue defending authoritarian regimes in the world, because as we can see know, states with the same mindset and philosophy tend to stand side by side in troubled times.


Review “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle”

Review “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle”

 “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle”, released in 2009, was written by two American journalists: Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Dan Samuel Senor is a frequent contributor to Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, he worked as a chief spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (2003-2004), Saul Singer served as an adviser in the United States Congress to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Banking Committees. In the book “Start-up Nation” authors tried to find out the roots for uniqueness of Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit that drives country’s economy, to make it possible authors looked at the history of the state of Israel and society’s customs and cultural characteristics.
Before taking readers to the main analysis of the economic miracle in Israel, at the beginning of the book authors describe what it is so unique in Jewish culture that make others not wonder when they learn that Israel leads in number of start-ups pro capita among the OECD countries? Why Jews are seen as smart and active? According to Den Senor and Saul Singer, it is because of nature of Judaism that can be described as a culture of challenging everything. Children raised in Judaism always ask questions to their teachers because it is normal to do so. With noting this distinctive feature of Jewish culture to challenge any authority authors continue further discussion about Israel’s economy.
Another source for the distinct entrepreneurial spirit in Israel was the immigrant mentality of society. As we know, being mainly an immigrant society Israel continues to have most liberal immigrant policy in the world. According to authors of the book, first settler were from the beginning of their life in Israel risk-takers, they lived in a hostile environment. Not only Arabs created troubles to new comers, but also nature was adverse as well. First Israelis learned to survive in uneasy conditions that in turn contributed to the overall society’s mentality.
Moreover, if we look at the famous kibbutzim movement in Israel we will see how desperate these people were. There was a combination of collective and individual. People learned to live together for it was possibly the only way to survive. First Israelis learned to pursue their own goals and at the same time to contribute to the society’s wealth.
Since the begin of Israel’s existence it was clear that army would become one of the cornerstones of Israeli society. Nowadays Israeli Army is the hard school of life for almost every Israeli. In army people learn how to be best in order to protect themselves and their brothers (and sisters) in arms. Israel Defence Force has created effective system of selection of the smartest soldiers who serve not only in regular troops but also in special divisions of army. Such experts are tasked to find best solutions for existing problems during conflicts. Acquired skills of thinking quickly and taking decisions under pressure help such people after army to become successful businessmen and found their own start-ups.
In addition, according to the book, connections made during a service help to navigate in business world. It is almost impossible to develop ideas or run a business if your don’t have right friends, in Israel it is different, everyone knows everyone, that is why it is relatively easy to find right people that can contribute to your start-up or give help.
As a prove for successful experience of Israel’s economy that is driven by mass creation of start-ups authors of the book name the strongly positive image of the country in the eyes of potential investors even during armed conflicts in the region. People are sure that Israel is secure enough to keep on functioning as an effective economy that is so attractive for western venture capital companies. More interesting question for readers would be whether it is possible to repeat Israel’s experience and why despite many similarities such countries as Singapore and South Korea do not habe Israel like strong entrepreneurial spirit and do have as many start-ups as in Israel? The answer is the cultural code; it is due to specific cultural formula or mentality of people of Israel that drives Israel’s economy.
The book “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” is an attempt to provide insight into what is the Israeli economics and what makes it so unique and successful despite all existing problems and threats, this book will be useful for those who is interested in economics and politics of the Middle East and particularly in Israel.

Explaining Qatar’s foreign policy

Explaining Qatar’s foreign policy


The changes of the past year in the Middle East and North Africa revealed how active small states can be. Engagement of Qatar in NATO operations in Libya, actions of the Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani against Syria in the Arab League and coverage of Al Jazeera channel during the uprising in the neighboring Kingdom of Bahrain suggest that this small carbon-rich Gulf monarchy has a potential to influence the regional politics. In this article the attempt would be taken to explain why Qatar’s foreign policy is not framed within the Gulf region, why this small Gulf state is so active in many issues in the MENA region and what are the fundamentals for such an active engagement abroad?


Among the universe of the methodological approaches capable of expounding Qatar’s case perhaps only the network analysis can help us understand the foreign policy of Qatar from the perspective of small state in contrast to the gas- and oil-rich one. The object of the social network analysis is  relations or connections that actually explain why actor is able to exert influence in and reduce pressure from the environment[1]. Qatar seeks diversification of its relation to other countries due its own limitations. Since influence can be achieved not only through possessing resources, but also by forging as many connections within the network as possible.

Historical Background

Modern state of Qatar was formed in the mid-19the century as a result of concentration of power in the Al Thani family’s hands. However, till its independence in 1971 Qatar was a British protectorate, since then due to discovery of the massive oil and later gas fields Qatar has become one of the richest monarchies in the region with the highest GDP per capita in the world. The present ruler of Qatar Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani seized power after the bloodless coup d’état in 1995. Beginning in the early 1990’s the Qatari foreign policy has been formed into what we can see now: multidimensional engagement and activity in major issues in the region.

Qatar’s relations with its neighbors weren’t always good. Small monarchy has faced the territorial problems with Bahrain and its much bigger neighbor Saudi-Arabia. Long lasting tensions with Bahrain over the islands were resolved in 2001 by the decision of the International Court of Justice, saying that disputed islands belong to Bahrain, and border conflicts with Saudi-Arabia in 1992-1994 resulted in the signing border demarcation agreement in 2001.

Taken into account that all its neighbors have oil or gas fields, Qatar has found itself in a situation when it could not enjoy much weight on the regional politics on basis of resource richness. Even more, sometimes Qatar’s economic activity was restricted due to the absence of cooperativeness with other Gulf monarchies, as an example of Saudi Arabia suggests, when a number of energy pipeline projects were renounced as a result of reluctance of the latter to provide territory for Qatar’s oil and gas supply.


Willing to be more independent of the state of affairs in the region and of Saudi Arabia in particular, Qatar decided to seek for relations outside the Gulf. As an oil and gas-rich exporter Qatar was interesting candidate for partnership in the eyes of Western countries, especially for Europe, who in turn were looking for more carbon suppliers.

The Defence Cooperation Agreement stricken in 1991 between Qatar and USA symbolized the developing military collaboration between the Gulf state and the West. After the withdrawal of its military base from Saudi Arabia USA decided to choose Qatar as a home  for its Central Command and built largest in the region Al Udeid U.S. Air Force Base and Camp As Sayyliyah. Since then Qatar’s security has been guaranteed by the presence of the US troops on its ground[2].

But Qatar went further in alliance with western countries. During civil war in Libya Qatar supported the efforts of the NATO to establish a non-fly zone and provide the rebels with military assistance. Qatar sent its six mirage jet fighters and supplied the insurgents with modern anti-tank missiles and rifles. Later on Qatari government acknowledged that its military officers had trained the Libyan rebels and had sent its troops to Northern Africa[3].

Above the military cooperation with the West announcement of democratic reforms in country suggests that Qatar wants the normative approach with its allies outside the region. Though reform initiatives are mostly of a proactive character, i.e. they are not a reaction on the outside pressure, and deal with a wide range of issues beginning from the elections to municipal councils to referendum on permanent constitution, Qatar continues to be a typical Gulf monarchy with limited freedoms[4].


Although Qatari foreign policy to some extent can be described as a pro-western one, there are almost no critical sentiments about its relations with the West in the region. The reason for this is in skilful manipulation of multiple “identities” by the Qatari Emir. Qatar enjoys good relations with almost all Islamic countries; its popularity is going to rise even more given the fact of Qatari support of revolutions in Libya and Egypt where Islamists got power in parliaments.

Qatar demonstrates intention to become an interlocutor between the West and Islamic world. The Al Jazeera network channel, established in 1996, has become a unique and effective tool of the Qatari Emir in his activity as a cultural bridge and even more[5]. Funded by the government Al Jazeera serves as “a voice of voiceless”, the channel pretends to represent the whole Islamic “Ummah” (community) thus it automatically indicated Qatar’s new and completely different from the pro-western level of engagement.

Aside from financing the satellite channel, Qatar in his aspires to gain weight in religious affairs in the Middle East has long been hosting prominent clerics from other countries. For  example, Yusuf Qaradawi, who was forced to leave Egypt in the wave of oppression against Mulsim Brotherhood, has been living in Qatar since 1960’s and issuing fatwas (religious decrees) and writing philosophical works, some of which are marked with extremist notions on the western powers waging war against muslims.


Seeing that Qatar is capable of maintain relations with several sometimes opposite stakeholders, it would not be surprising that Qatari Emir has ties to some terrorist organizations like Hizbullah and Hamas and rogue states like Syria and Iran. Although these regional players are mainly at odds with the western countries, such an exclusive access to them and relatively good relations make Qatar a valuable mediator during negotiations whether it is over the Palestinian interim government or the preventing civil war in Lebanon.

Art of Balancing

Taken everything into account it is hard to imagine a regional conflict without direct or indirect involvement of Qatar in it. In 2007-2008 Qatar was mediating between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels, in 2010 Djibouti and Eritrea asked Qatar for mediation in their border dispute, Qatar proposed the agreement to Sudan and Darfur rebels in 2010, though it was rejected. Still Qatar is showing it will play further a role of mediator or even active participator to conflicts.

The roots for such a proactive foreign policy of such a small state can be found in the domestic affairs. In 1995 after the coup d’état new Emir was trying to establish a positive and liberal image of a new ruler with a single goal – to consolidate its regime making first steps in hostile environment where supporters of the old regime inside the ruling family and outside the monarchy (Saudi Arabia) cherished hopes for restoration. Even still the biggest threat to regime in Qatar comes from inside the Al Thani family.[6]

Later, events of the first Gulf war and earlier of so called Tanker war during the Iraqi-Iranian conflict 1980-1988 clearly demonstrated Qatar that cooperation within the Gulf Cooperation Council can not fully provide security to its supply facilities[7]. Qatar chose the West to call for the protection and security in case of any emergencies in the region. Another cause for resorting to the western assistance was clear intention to get rid of the Iranian (due to large Shia community in Qatar) and Saudi Arabian influence.

However, with the rise of fundamentalism in the region it became too risky to bind itself too heavily to the West and to portrait itself as its ally in the Middle East. Qatar’s foreign policy was directed onto the maintaining relatively good relations with forces who were seen as main supporters of radical Islamism – beginning from armed militias in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon to Iran and Syria. Having great financial resources Qatar provided help to Muslims in the region, especially after the armed conflicts.


Seeing all facts describing the unique Qatari activity in the region we can assume that such a dynamic foreign policy, its participation in major issues in the Middle East and broad relation to main stake-holders are actually only a way out for Qatar from the dangers it faces. Keeping all sides close simultaneously and counter-balancing all central players give Qatar a chance to be an influential hub within the network of relations. Qatar tries to lessen the influence from its surrounding by attaching weight in the regional affairs. But further question thereupon would be  how long Qatar is capable of conducting such a skilful foreign policy and maintaining equilibrium between the sides?

[1] Hafner-Burton Emilie M.,“Network Analysis for International Relations”, International Organizations, vol.63(2009), p.560
[6] Mehran Kamrava, “Royal Factionalism and Political Liberalization in Qatar”, The Middle East Journal, vol.63 (2009), p.411
[7] David G. Victor, Amy M. Jaffe, Mark H. Hayes, “Natural Gas and geopolitics from 1970-2040”, (Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (2006), p.237