Russia & Syria – Ass Saving Diplomacy

It has perplexed me since late December, early January. Why has Putin, who is normally so vociferous and quick to put down dissenters on the streets, been virtually silent until very recently about the mass protests on the streets of Moscow. Muscovites have been calling for him to exit the Kremlin in mass rallies since Christmas Eve. Normally his heavy handed approach is to deploy his Spetsnaz security services and have them arrest and beat anyone with a banner, thus keeping the rest of the population in check and in fear of speaking out.

But perhaps the recent Arab Spring, and the current goings-on in Syria have given Vlad “The Terrible” some food for thought. His usual rhetoric is along the lines of ‘the West shouldn’t meddle in other sovereign nations affairs‘. It’s been a long held view of his for quite some time now. Not because he cares about the West meddling in world affairs, but because he cares about the West meddling in RUSSIAN affairs.

A taste of his rhetoric becoming more mainstream doctrine was put on show for the world to see when Russia granted citizenship to the population of Georgian separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The logic here was based on an article written into the Russian constitution which stipulates that Russia has the right to defend her citizens anywhere in the world. This granting of Russian passports to Abkhazians and South Ossetians gave Putin the legal and moral impetus which permitted him to deploy Russian troops to the region. It was also used as leverage against Ukraine when the discussions on Ukraine’s possible NATO membership and the negotiations for the lease renewal of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol reared its ugly head. The Ukrainians backed down and yielded to Russia’s demands, or feared facing the wrath of the bear.

But Russia (along with China) have both steadfastly objected to the Wests insistence on passing a UN resolution which calls for the departure of Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. Instead, Russian sent an envoy, in the former of Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, to Damascus to state Russia’s position. We still do not know exactly what that position is as the Russians and Syrians have not openly communicated what was discussed or agreed, save for the fact that Russian intimated that it wanted all Arabs to live in peace and safety. Nice words, but that’s all they are….words.

In the meantime, Russia has dispatched an aircraft carrier and destroyers to the Mediterranean Sea as a show of support to the Syrian regime, as well as an outward sign to the West to signify their intolerance to “Western meddling”, such as experienced in Libya. Initially (before the UN resolution came about) I was sceptical as to the reasons of Russian support for Syria. Syria has so few friends in the region, why would Russia align herself with Syria? Economically there’s nothing much there. Syria is a middle-income economy largely centred on agriculture and an increasingly dwindling oil industry. But they spend a lot of money on their military. Maybe it made good business sense to keep them close as a friend, so Russia could continue to sell weapons and munitions to the Syrian army who continue to bombard and kill innocent civilians.

But then the UN resolution was drafted. And all of a sudden the Russians went ducking for cover. Putin has up until now said very little about the street protests at home. He refuses to attend televised debates for the Russian Presidential Election and he has allowed mass protest to take to the streets with very little in the way of a crackdown from the security services. And then the penny dropped. He’s running scared. He KNOWS that when he gets re-elected (and that is a certainty, no matter what bullshit they spout off about webcams at all the voting stations and clean and fair elections) the shit will definitely hit the fan.

He will then be in the same position as his old chum, Bashar al-Assad, is currently in. Mass protesting, civil unrest and the West breathing down his neck over his handling of domestic policy. So he’s taken this stance with Syria as a way of protecting himself from more Western meddling, and any potential ideas that the U.S. has of either ousting him via a UN resolution, or worse, the placing on UN Peacekeepers on Russian soil.

So his omerta is for tactical reasons only. His (and also China’s) insistence that countries should have the ability to force internal domestic policy without outside intervention is his way of setting himself up for the brutality that will be forced upon the Russian citizens after his re-election. This quiet silence from Putin is but the calm before the storm.

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