Following is a Q&A with National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President & CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony regarding Russia’s interests and involvement in Syria.
Q: What characterizes Russia’s relationship with the Bashar al-Assad regime?
A: Out of the 22 Arab countries, 28 Middle Eastern countries, and 57 Islamic nations, Russia’s allies are few. Moscow’s relations with Damascus are closer than its relations with the capitals of other Arab countries. Indeed, they are closer than its relations with other Middle Eastern countries as a whole. As a result, Russia’s military actions in Syria aim to protect Assad and the country’s leadership and to keep Syria strong.
Other nations may not approve of this stance, but it must be acknowledged that Moscow has interests in Syria that it wishes to protect as well as the goal of further strengthening and expanding an allied relationship. What is also important and largely missing from or downplayed by the mainstream media is that Moscow, in standing with Damascus, provides the Syrian leadership with a rebuttal to the other UN Security Council Permanent Members (China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States) who state or imply that Syria lacks international support.
Q: What are Russia’s particular interests in Syria and are they of recent or older vintage?
A: They are numerous and date back to the respective reigns of Catherine and Peter the Great. Both sought ports in southern climes that could facilitate and sustain Russian east-west and west-east maritime ventures involving trade, rest, and resupply. During the Cold War, in addition to these commercial and economic objectives, interests of a military nature – aeronautical and naval, mainly – manifested themselves in the construction of port facilities to accommodate Russian ships traversing the waters southward from Turkey and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. As a matter of course, Russia used these port facilities also to build the country’s air defense system and weaponry as well as to ensure provisions for armaments, munitions, training, and maintenance for the system and the country’s defense establishment as a whole.