Russia raises Western ire in support of Syria
February 03, 2012
By choosing to back Syria President Bashar al-Assad and block a draft UN Security Council resolution calling for a transfer of power in his country, Russia seems to be placing itself as a counterbalance to NATO interests in the region.
Rim Turkmani, a member of the external Syrian opposition and an astrophysicist at the Imperial College of London, goes so far as to describe the Syrian crisis as a "proxy war" between Russia and the West.
Since the beginning of the country's uprising in March, Moscow has supported the Syrian government with more than just rhetoric, reportedly concluding a $550m arms sales to Damascus.
In addition to using the arms sales to thumb its nose at talk of military intervention against Syria, Russia may also be looking to make up for lost revenue after sanctions prompted it to cancel missile sales to Iran.
Despite the cancellation, Russia has maintained its ties with Iran, a Syrian ally, by criticising the European Union embargo on Iranian oil.
All of this comes at a delicate time for Russia, itself having recently faced protests on the streets of Moscow over allegations of fraud in December's parliamentary elections.
Russia also seems to be positioning itself as a mediator between the Syrian government and the country's opposition - on the one hand supplying the state with weapons, on the other inviting the opposition to Moscow for talks.
The foreign ministry suggested on Monday that the two sides should meet in the Russian capital for "informal contacts" without any preconditions, an offer rejected by the opposition.
Turkmani said: "We rejected it because we don't see it as being part of a solution. The only thing that we will accept is negotiations that would lead a transition of power."
Russia is wary of endorsing international action in Syria, where it has a naval base at Tartous, near Latakia, after complaining that NATO and Western powers went beyond the UN remit in Libya, where fighting continues in some areas, and security is tenuous.
Moscow has gone so far as to say that Assad's opponents are compelled to share the blame for the thousands of deaths since the start of the uprising in Syria in March 2011, and that it would block Western-backed intervention in the country.