Russia Seeks to Retain Influence Over Syria if Assad Falls

Voice of America News
December 14 2012

Russia Seeks to Retain Influence Over Syria if Assad Falls

by Michael Lipin
December 14, 2012

Russia’s foreign ministry says Moscow’s policy on Syria has not
changed, despite a top diplomat’s reported comment that Syria’s
opposition may win its battle against President Bashar al-Assad.

Authorities in Moscow say Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has
not made any statements or conducted “special interviews” with
journalists over the past few days regarding Syria. This conflicted
with reports in Russian news media that quoted the minister as saying
Assad is increasingly losing control of his country’s territory, and
that an opposition victory cannot be ruled out.

The purported Bogdanov comments were viewed as the first time that
Syria’s powerful supporters in Moscow were acknowledging that the
Assad government might be crumbling after nearly two years of battling
anti-government forces.

The Russian foreign ministry said Bogdanov was referring to claims
made by the “Syrian opposition and its foreign sponsors, forecasting
their quick victory over the regime in Damascus.” Bogdanov reputedly
made the remark to a Kremlin advisory body that was discussing issues
in the Middle East and North Africa.

Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly blocked efforts by the United
Nations Security Council to address the Syrian crisis.

Despite the Kremlin’s denial of any change in policy, analysts say
Bogdanov’s comments appear to reflect a strong Russian desire to
maintain influence in Syria, regardless of the Syrian president’s

Bogdanov left open the possibility of Assad surviving the rebellion
and staying in power. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly
shielded the Syrian leader from U.S.-led demands to quit.

Protecting Assad

Putin has vowed to oppose any U.S. and NATO intervention in Syria
comparable to the Western allies’ air campaign last year that helped
Libyan rebels overthrow pro-Russian dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a defense analyst with Russian newspaper Novaya
Gazeta, says Putin has taken a rigid position on Syria, with support
from Russia’s military and intelligence community: “Russia is with Mr.
Assad until the bloody end, and maybe even after.”

But Moscow also appears to be positioning itself to have a say in
Syria’s future if rebels replace Assad with a more U.S.-friendly
transitional government.

Vladimir Akhmedov, a researcher at Moscow’s Institute of Oriental
Studies, said he sees Bogdanov’s briefing as a hint that Russia is
ready to compromise with the United States on a Syrian transition.

“In Russia, it is not a secret. Everybody understands that Mr. Assad’s
days are numbered,” Akhmedov said. “Moscow wants to know who [in a
post-Assad government] can preserve Russian interests in a future

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and U.N. peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Dublin last
week to discuss a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

Moscow is pressing for implementation of an international Action Group
agreement six months ago that called for all Syrian groups to engage
the government in a Syrian-led national dialogue and transition

The United States has said implementing the Geneva communique requires
Assad to step down, but Russia has rejected that interpretation.

Alliance origins

Akhmedov said there are several fundamental factors involved in
Russia’s desire to maintain its influence in Syria, including a
Soviet-Syrian friendship treaty signed in 1980.

That treaty led to the development of close ties between the Russian
and Syrian militaries, intelligence services and political

The Russian navy has used a small logistics base in the Syrian port of
Tartus for decades.

Russia also has clout in Syrian affairs thanks to the Arab state’s
large number of Russian speakers — more than 100,000 before the
current civil war — according to Akhmedov.

“Many Syrians, even rebel politicians and fighters, can speak Russian,
because they studied in Russia or in Soviet-bloc nations such as
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan,” he said.

Thousands of Russians also have settled in Syria since the 1970s after
marrying Syrians. Akhmedov said many of those Russian citizens were
involved in building Syria’s infrastructure.

“After the rebellion, Syria will need to rebuild its ruined towns and
cities, and Syrians know [from experience] that Russia can help
again,” he said.

But not all Syrians may want that help.

Ostracizing Russia

Many Syrian opposition activists have expressed anger at Moscow’s
loyalty to the Assad government. Some rebels even have warned Russians
to leave Syria or face attack.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition also has turned to Western
and Arab powers to seek aid for reconstruction. Germany and the United
Arab Emirates have agreed to manage a fund for that purpose.

Russian journalist Felgenhauer said he believes that Russia’s future
in Syria is bleak. “All this influence apparently will be lost
together with the fall of Assad,” he said.

Akhmedov, the researcher, said Moscow has a reason to be hopeful.

“The Syrian mentality is a desire for balance. I do not think that
Syrians want to stop all relations with Russia and put all of their
eggs into the West’s basket,” he said.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS