Due West: Who would have thought it’d be Moscow vs the Arabs?

© Photo : KommersantKonstantin von Eggert
Konstantin von Eggert - Sputnik International
Subscribe
International
India
Africa
Ever since I became interested in international politics at the tender age of fourteen I remember the official Soviet/Russian attitude to the Middle East summed up in one sentence: “Peoples of the region have to settle their problems between themselves and without outside interference.”

Ever since I became interested in international politics at the tender age of fourteen I remember the official Soviet/Russian attitude to the Middle East summed up in one sentence: “Peoples of the region have to settle their problems between themselves and without outside interference.” Of course it was and to some extent still is just a cliché. In the days of the Cold War, if it was America supplying arms to Israel or Saudi Arabia, then the said interference was definitely bad. If it was the Soviet Union doing the same to Syria or Iraq, then this was no interference at all but “brotherly help.” Still the narrative remained.

So I was quite surprised by the Russian Foreign Ministry taking such a tough line when the Arab League decided to suspend Syria’s membership. As far as I remember, this was for the first time that the League did this in such a grandiose fashion since the 1979 expulsion of Egypt over its signing the Camp David accords with Israel (a completely futile step as it turned out). But this time the League suspended Syria for reasons which it rarely listened to before: humanitarian ones. Actually the suggestion for President Bashar al-Assad to stop butchering his people with tanks was a modest one (he might have well continued doing this with all sorts of other arms). In reply, Damascus sent armor in to storm yet another opposition, a supporting neighborhood in the city of Homs. Then the Arabs acted and announced the suspension. Everything that happened after that was as predictable as a winter sandstorm in the desert, that is, completely predictable. Rented mobs of so-called Assad supporters started attacking Arab, Turkish and Western diplomatic missions in Syria.

But instead of hailing the Arab League’s step as a clear example of “peoples of the region settling their problems without outside interference,” official Moscow pronounced it a mistake. Pro-government pundits and state TV went even further, accusing the League of becoming a proxy for the West. At the same time, His Holiness Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, decided not to cancel a long-planned visit to Syria and even met with Bashar al-Assad: all smiles, gifts in hand. The Syrian state-censored media interpreted the visit as a sign of official support from Moscow. His Holiness knew this in advance that this no doubt would be the case, but preferred to go on with the trip.

Finally, a delegation of the opposition Syrian National Council came to Moscow and met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He told them “to open dialogue” with the government in Damascus. Council chairman Burhan Ghalioun told the minister there would be no dialogue with Assad as long as he continues to suppress the opposition with violent means and instead asked Lavrov to exert pressure on Assad (a highly unlikely scenario in the current circumstances).

Moscow’s intransigence is explained, in my opinion, by several factors. One is the one or two billion dollars of arms contracts that Moscow has signed with Damascus and doesn’t want to lose. Another is the desire to show influence in one of the very few places where Russian influence still exists in some form. But a third reason is probably more important: Russian leaders do not want to do anything that could be interpreted as support for “regime change.” This reflects the Kremlin’s preoccupation with Russia’s domestic scene, which becomes increasingly turbulent and unpredictable.

However, Moscow’s determination to stand by Assad flies in the face of everything that one should have learned after the war in Libya, as well as revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt: the age of “republican monarchies” established in the 1960s and 1970s is coming to a close. What comes next nobody knows and very probably each country will go its own way. But it is clear that the legitimacy of repressive dictatorships that ruled the region for so long is severely, if not fatally undermined. The Russian leadership inclines to believe that this is all the result of malicious foreign plots and outside incitement rather than incompetence, corruption and violence of the dictatorial regimes themselves. This refusal to admit that societies and political systems evolve is staggering. And it bodes badly for Russia, which increasingly finds itself on the losing side when it comes to foreign relations. This time it is relations with the majority of the Arab countries that take a hit. But it could be any other region any time as long as Moscow insists on keeping the status quo that is no longer there to keep.

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Due West: Ukraine Still At The Crossroads

Due West: “Radical chic” Russian style

Due West: Will Obama's reset policy survive?

Due West: Which way will Russia go on the WTO?

Due West: Yanukovych’s mistake

Due West: Is Russia losing interest in WTO bid?

Due West: Business as usual under Putin - again?

Due West: The Kremlin vs. Yukos

Due West: As U.S. commemorates 9/11, Kremlin looks the other way

Due West: The rules of the oil game in Russia

Due West: Russia’s missed opportunity in Libya

Due West: Moscow's tortuous foreign policy

Due West: Hashing it out three years on - Russia-Georgia relations

Due West: Arab summer

Due West: Russian Nazis look to Norway

Due West: Sailing out of corruption

Due West: Medvedev should visit the graves of those who gave Russia true freedom

Due West: Otto of Austria - the uncrowned Emperor of Europe

Due West: Moscow and Minsk start a cold war, while China waits in the wings

Due West: Ukraine Turns Gaze Back to Brussels

Due West: Russia divided in wake of a murderer’s death

Due West: Long live the King!

Due West: Russia’s Balkans obsession seems to be finally over

Due West: Laying the table for Obama and Medvedev

Due West: Russia’s Two-Faced Approach to Foreign Policy

Due West: VE-Day Truths and Lies

Due West: George W. Bush has the last laugh

Due West: Wake up, it’s a new world Mr. Prime Minister

Due West: Putin vs. Medvedev

Due West: East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet

Due West: The Kuchma sensation

Due West: More Putin-Medvedev cat and mouse?

Due West: Send in the Sukhois

Due West: Russia’s Romance with conspiracy theories

Due West: Good-bye to a colonel and his Socialist People’s Republic

Due West: Was George W. Bush right on Arab democracy?

Due West: And What about Syria?

Due West: Boris Yeltsin - Russia's flawed but genuine revolutionary

Due West: Pointing fingers instead of pulling levers

Due West: The times they are a-changing – should secular Arabs fear democracy?

Due West: EU ready to sell out to Beijing

Due West: Not to be missed – two anniversaries in 2011

Due West: Hotspots and weak spots around the world in 2010

Due West: Lukashenko as Europe’s number one psychologist

Due West: Vaclav Havel – the man, who still believes in politics

Due West: Georgia’s wildcard in Russia’s WTO membership

Due West: The tabloid freedom of WikiLeaks

Due West: Russia prepared to go as far as NATO is prepared

Due West: Looking into the Russian-Japanese island spat

Due West: Russia's NATO Dream

*

What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.

Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

Newsfeed
0
To participate in the discussion
log in or register
loader
Chats
Заголовок открываемого материала