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Moscow will not give up Damascus, as Russia’s foreign minister has made clear – despite rebels’ latest success in targeting the heart of the Assad regime. At stake here, beyond Syria, is the restoration of Russian power in relation to the west.Russia’s relations with Syria date back to the emigration to Turkey and Syria of Circassian minorities in the 19th century and this link still influences Russia’s perception of the Syrian crisis. The fear is that chaos in Syria, if followed by an Islamist victory, might radicalise the Russian Caucasus. Moreover, Syria has traditionally been a counterweight to Turkey, especially when Turkish-Syrian relations were troubled. If the Damascus regime fell, Moscow’s southern flank would be weakened. Indeed, the regime’s fall would cut Russia out of the Middle East, where it has met with one setback after another over the past 50 years.
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