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Responsibility to protect... itself? Russia’s strategy towards the crisis in Syria
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA
28 May 2013
On 28 May 2013, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) released a briefing paper on Russia’s strategy towards the crisis in Syrria titled “Responsibility to protect... itself?”, written by Marek Menkiszak, Head of the Russian Department, Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) and Visiting Researcher at FIIA.
Despite attempts to present itself as a neutral force, Russia de facto supported Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad’s regime by both political and military means. Moscow’s main goal was to defend
the regime against the pressure to relinquish power to the opposition, and also to deter any
attempt at a Western/Arab military intervention in Syria.
Various factors have influenced Russia’s strategy towards the Syrian crisis. Among them are
concern over strategic and economic interests in Syria as the last symbolic outpost of Russian
influence in the Middle East, as well as a fear of the consequences of a regional imbalance, involving
the spread of Islamic radicalism, spilling over to Russia itself. Obviously, the Western military
engagement in Libya strongly influenced Russian behaviour, providing Moscow with a negative
reference point.
Of crucial importance in the Russian approach to Syria, however, is a perception that prevails
among the conservative top members of the Russian ruling elite. It involves the belief in a US-led
conspiracy to advance its geopolitical interests through regime change by means of both soft power
technologies and the unilateral use of military force, with Syria being yet another target. But it also
stems from a growing sense of domestic vulnerability, which paradoxically provokes the Kremlin
to actively defend itself, both in Russia and in Syria, against a perceived external threat.
One should not expect Russia to change its current position on the Syrian conflict. Moscow seems
to be ready to accept any scenario which will effectively prevent a regime change in Syria, through
prolonging the conflict and the “Lebanization” of Syria, or via an interim agreement which would
freeze the status quo. This offers little room for cooperation between the West and Russia.

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