According to Vladimir Putin, the world faces a “terrible precedent” and a development that could “shake the entire foundations of the international system,” should it come to pass.
Putin was not speaking about an impending military strike against the Syrian regime, but rather the possibility – back in 2000 – that countries would dare to support the independence of the Kosovo region. Needless to say, the international order did not collapse.
In the post-Soviet era, Moscow has sought to protect allies that it inherited from the USSR, such as Yugoslavia (in the form of Serbia), Iraq and Libya. Now it’s Syria’s turn, and Russian officials are busy sending out confusing signals in a policy that appears to be a case of hoping for the best.
Russia has signaled that it will veto any resolution at the United Nations Security Council authorizing punishment of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. However, Russian officials have also made it clear that their country doesn’t intend to act militarily if the West launches a military strike at Syrian regime targets.
Meanwhile, the Russians have taken the regime’s side on the issue of last week’s chemical weapons strikes. Moscow insisted that the attacks were the work of anti-government rebels, who apparently only have the technical ability to launch such projectiles into areas under their control, but not in the direction of military airports under the control of the regime.
Russia’s stance of nearly unconditional support for Assad isn’t surprising, but the lack of forward thinking and leadership continue to puzzle some people.
Is Russia hugely confident that Assad’s forces will defeat the rebels and oversee a stable Syria in the wake of this victory? Moscow has begun evacuating Russian nationals, which doesn’t help its standing with Syrians who support the regime, after it alienated those Syrians who support the opposition.
In the end, Russian officials are fond of showing how keen they are to protect their national interests, but their track record has been one of stubbornly hanging on, in the face of inevitable change.
For more than two years, Russia never managed to convince its Syrian ally that it should engage in meaningful change. Instead, it followed the regime mindset of reducing everything to a foreign-led conspiracy.
Throughout all of the horrific carnage in Syria, Russia has declined to push forcefully in the direction of a political settlement, and is now faced with the prospect of international military action against its ally.
And now, as Syrian officials make fiery statements of defiance, Russia is again following instead of leading, telling the world that it favors a diplomatic solution after doing nothing to see such a scenario come to pass.