While the crisis in Syria has prompted calls for military intervention in the country by major Western nations, Russia is proving to be the spanner in the works, Bloomberg reported.In an amended UN draft resolution proposed on Tuesday, Russia continued to reject the idea of sending troops to Syria — an amendment proposed by the U.S. and European nations — instead adopting a more conciliatory tone in an attempt to bring peace through negotiation, holding the government and rebels equally accountable, according to Russia Today.
Both Russia and China have even rejected the idea of stricter UN sanctions on Damascus.
Other countries have called Russia’s stance “insufficient”, calling for a stronger censure of the Syrian government, given the extent to which the crisis in Syria has deteriorated. A UN report says more than 5,000 people have died since the country rose against President Assad’s 11-year autocratic rule.
Russia, on the other hand, has accused the U.S. and its European allies of wanting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, and says NATO was ready to establish a no-fly zone to protect the rebels.
So, why is Russia protecting Syria?
This may be in keeping with the Kremlin’s attitude of having its own priorities and alliances (like Venezuela and Algeria), independent of the West, as well as its position of being against outside interference in sovereign states (it opposed NATO’s involvement in Libya as well), but there’s more to this than meets the eye…
Syria has been a military ally and market for arms for Russia for decades. Damascus is a major buyer of weapons from Russia, with deals totaling $4 billion, according to the Guardian. The Syrian port of Tartus is home to Russia’s only naval presence in the region, currently being renovated to hold Russian ships.
Just last week we saw reports that a Russian ship had docked with over 35 tons of arms and ammunition.
Russia also invests about $19.4 billion in Syrian infrastructure and energy projects, among other things, and exports goods worth $1.1 billion to the Middle-Eastern country, The Moscow Times reported. Instability in the region, especially a disintegration into a full-blown civil war, would prove disastrous for Russian businesses.
The desire to retain the status quo by staying loyal to President Assad also shows Moscow’s worries that a civil war in Syria, like the colour revolutions in former Soviet countries, could destabilize neighbouring areas, most notably the already-simmering North Caucasus Russian region of Dagestan, according to the BBC.
However, Russia could soon find its options severely limited. Just like in Libya, where initial recalcitrance gave way to echoing demands by the West for Gaddafi to step down, Russia will not risk isolation if it finds their patience continues to wear thin.
If Assad’s presidency no longer seems salvageable, as became the case with Gaddafi, Russia could very well do a volte-face.