Sunday, July 22, 2012

Russia and Syria

I am at a loss to understand Russian policy towards Syria. Whereas earlier it was rational, if hardly admirable, now it has become totally counterintuitive.  Russia has achieved the rare feat of seeming to be both anti-Israel and anti-Sunni Islam, by keeping afloat an inveterate enemy of Israel who has oppressed his own majority Sunni population for years. To do this to simply spite the Untied States is the action of a far smaller power than one assumes even a diminished post-Soviet Russia is. To act as the champion of Middle Eastern Christians, honorarily and absurdly extending that designation to the Alawites just because they are not Sunni? Shades of the Crimean War and ‘protecting the holy places’, and Russia was far more feared geopolitically then? Besides, the Assad regime stands as the moral opposite for all the Orthodox Church stands for. I have just been rereading The Brothers Karamazov and Father Zossima would certainly not approve. The entire idea, popularized by Samuel Huntington in the 1990s, that a post-Soviet Russia could find its geopolitical role as spearheading an orthodox population is preposterous. Bulgaria, Romania, Ethiopia all remember the Moscow-fostered oppressive regimes that brutalized them in the Cold War period. Despite what people said during the Kosovo war, the Serbia-Russia relationship has always been very distant (cf. book eight of Anna Karenina). I think the current Russian regime has somewhat offended Georgia, no? Armenia, in case you were wondering is not Orthodox in the strict sense (non-Chalcedonian) and of course most of the Christians actually in Syria as well. That is all a crock. There are all sorts of policy options for Russia in the Middle East, including a friendlier relationship with Israel (and Putin’s relatively friendly visit there recently was an interesting token, and of course the only Russian-speaking population in the Middle East today, side i guess from all the Russian advisers in Syria, is in Israel) but this bizarre association with Assad until death do them part is ruining these possibilities. So Russia is supporting an un-Christian regime loathed by Muslims and Jews. Not a winning policy. Turkey was originally against a regime change in Syria because it saw this possibility as helping the US too much, but, as in Libya, they realized their credibility with the broader arab world depended on a change in policy. Why has Russia not followed suit? In general, Russia and, perhaps even more surprisingly, China, are far too supportive of a host of regimes that will simply not be there in the medium-term future, that while we are all still active and vigorous will topple—Syria, Iran, North Korea. It is a losing strategy for them, and as unpopular as the US is in the Islamic world it has to be said that the US, inter alia, has had elements in its foreign policy favorable to Islamic peoples Russia and China simply have not—any popularity they have in this world is totally due to expediency and not due to any sense of shared values. Which is why Russia has very little room for maneuver….