Dec 9, 2013
Revenge of the Bear: Russia Strikes Back in Syria
Posted on May 20, 2013
By Juan Cole
The thinking of the Russian foreign ministry is clear from its Saturday press release on the revival of the radical Sunni insurgency in Iraq in recent weeks. Complaining about what it termed terrorist attacks in Mosul and Baghdad, the ministry’s website said, according to a translation done for the U.S. government’s Open Source Center, that “We are particularly concerned about growing sectarian tensions in Iraq, which are turning into a direct armed confrontation between radical elements in the Shi’a and Sunni communities. This is largely due to the crisis situation in neighboring Syria and the spread of terrorist activities of militants operating there.” In other words, Russia sees the Syrian revolution as dominated by al-Qaida-linked groups such as the al-Nusra Front. Moscow views the civil war as a destabilizing event with the potential for radicalizing the Middle East, which it views as its soft underbelly.
The momentum of the Syrian rebels has palpably slowed in the last month, as Putin’s riposte has stiffened the resolve in Damascus and given its military the wherewithal to regain territory. The Russian president is weaving a protective web around his client, fending off the Wahhabi winds of Muslim fundamentalism blowing from the Arabian Peninsula. He has also pushed back against opportunistic Israeli intervention, worried that it might further destabilize Damascus. At the same time, he has impressed on Washington the need for a negotiated settlement, an idea that President Obama, long skittish about sending troops into further possible Middle East quagmires, has begun to tolerate. Putin’s supply of powerful new weapons systems to Assad’s military, and his dispatch of warships from the Russian Pacific fleet through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, make clear that the full force of Russian military might is, if need be, at the service of its Baath client. Putin’s gambit may or may not prove successful, but he is indisputably demonstrating that the age of the sole superpower and of American unilateralism is passing in favor of a multipolar world.
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