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.

1 comment:

  1. Dictatorship protects another dictatorship ...