As U.N. special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, met with Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad in hopes of mediating a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis, the U.N Security Council remains stalled in negotiations with Russia and China, who insist on vetoing any resolution against the regime. Thus far, the Obama administration has also remained unsuccessful in convincing Moscow to adopt any resolutions concerning the atrocities being committed by the Assad regime. Yet change might be coming just south of the Black Sea, as Assad’s power slips away. While Putin reasserts his control on power gained in last week’s ‘irregular election’, will Russia continue to prop up this crumbling regime?
A variety of reasons can explain Russia’s reluctance to condemn its long-time ally. Moscow’s relationship with the Assad family dates back over forty years, with the Soviet Union providing Syrian troops with arms during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Since the end of the Cold War, Moscow has remained steadfast in its export market to Syria, estimated to be worth $1.1 billion in 2010, and arms contracts worth $4 billion annually. Furthermore, Russia maintains a natural gas facility construction company, Stroitransgaz, which is currently building natural gas processing plants 200 kilometers east of the besieged city of Homs. Apart from economic advantages, Russia also has vested geopolitical interests in Syria, with Moscow operating naval bases in the port city of Tartus. At the same time, Russia has voiced anger over NATO’s intervention in helping topple Muammar Gaddafi in Libya last year, warning against military intervention in Syria as being “counterproductive.”
With Russia claiming that intervention is unjustified, what is the probable cost of their continued support? In the aftermath of Assad’s fall, it is likely that Russia’s name will indubitably be linked with the crisis for years to come. Any change in government is likely to also change the current balance of power between the nations. Shying away from diplomatic relations with Russia is one understandable response for the forthcoming fledgling regime. On the other hand, shifting to a U.S.A. and Europe-friendly line of policy will complicate Syria’s ties with Hezbollah; a group which relies on Syria’s support to provide transport of Iranian arms to Lebanon. Will Russia simply relent to the the powers that be — Washington and London — in order to curry favor for future diplomacy? The cost of lives many not matter to Mr. Putin, but when the cost of power, money and influence is at stake, change will be a matter of time.
– Cody Levine