The Russian Intervention in Syria is Part of a Broader Strategic Picture

Assessing Moscow’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, Anna Borshchevskaya seeks to put it in the context of Vladimir Putin’s worldview and goals, and to demonstrate its continuity with the 2008 Russian war with Georgia and the invasion of Ukraine that began in 2014. First, she notes what might be called an ideological motivation for defending Bashar al-Assad:

November 2003 marked the beginning of the “color revolutions”—peaceful uprisings against corrupt regimes that swept the post-Soviet space, beginning with Georgia’s Rose Revolution and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of late 2004-05. . . . Putin saw the hand of Washington behind these events. As a KGB man, he had watched the Soviet Union itself instigate uprisings to undermine unfriendly regimes. Putin, whose understanding of the West and especially the United States has always been limited, could not imagine that the West would behave any differently toward him. . . .

When the Arab upheavals began in December 2010, the Kremlin viewed them the same way it saw the color revolutions—and by this time Putin had become much more belligerent. . . . It is no accident that the Kremlin has always insisted that it went into Syria at Assad’s request to protect a “legitimate government” against terrorists. This line was designed to pound into the Russian audience the message that revolt against any government is always wrong. . . .

The Russian intervention in Syria saved Assad, enabled Putin to project great-power status at the expense of the West, and entrenched Moscow further in the region. . . . Putin can also claim partial success in deterring Washington in the Middle East. His military moves, from Georgia to Ukraine to Syria, show he aims to reestablish a Russian presence across the Black Sea and the Mediterranean by creating and extending buffer zones along Russia’s periphery.

While seeing ideological, geostrategic, and economic reason behind Russia’s actions in Syria, Borshchevskaya finds unconvincing the Kremlin’s claim that it is interested in fighting terrorism. “If Moscow’s priority were in fact to target Islamist terrorism,” she writes, “it would have focused its campaign in Syria on Islamic State rather than on protecting Assad.” She also notes that “years of Western enabling—perceived by Moscow as weakness—emboldened Putin to intervene” in Syria and warns that American “cooperation with Russia will not bring stability.”

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More about: Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, Vladimir Putin, War in Ukraine

A University of Michigan Professor Exposes the Full Implications of Academic Boycotts of Israel

Sept. 26 2018

A few weeks ago, Professor John Cheney-Lippold of the University of Michigan told an undergraduate student he would write a letter of recommendation for her to participate in a study-abroad program. But upon examining her application more carefully and realizing that she wished to spend a semester in Israel, he sent her a polite email declining to follow through. His explanation: “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” and “for reasons of these politics” he would no longer write the letter. Jonathan Marks comments:

We are routinely told . . . that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study-abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. . . .

Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the [Michigan] student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights [and] freedom and to prevent violations of international law.”

Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney-Lippold could have found out by using Google. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent “resistance” but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.

That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an international day of solidarity with the “new generation of Palestinians” who were then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis—all civilians—dead.

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More about: Academia, Academic Boycotts, BDS, Israel & Zionism, Knife intifada