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.”

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

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

 

UN Troops in Lebanon Don’t Just Ignore Hizballah. They Protect It

Dec. 18 2018

Two weeks ago, IDF officers showed the commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) the tunnels that Hizballah has dug into Israeli territory. UNIFIL, whose primary mission is to keep Iran-backed jihadist group from using southern Lebanon to attack Israel, responded with a statement that failed even to name Hizballah. Not only is UNIFIL useless at doing its job, writes Evelyn Gordon, but its very presence helps Hizballah, since countries that contribute troops are afraid to put them in harm’s way by aggravating the terrorists they’re meant to contain.

It’s no coincidence that the major contributors to UNIFIL . . . oppose listing Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. The only EU country that does blacklist the entire organization is Holland, which has exactly one soldier in UNIFIL.

The EU and its other member states blacklist only the [organization’s] military wing, not the political wing. And that’s fine with Hizballah because, as the organization itself admits, any distinction between its political and military wings is purely fictitious. Thus, so long as the political wing is legal, Hizballah can still fundraise and recruit freely in Europe.

A complete ban, however, would genuinely hurt Hizballah. According to a 2017 German intelligence report, Germany alone has [on its soil] some 950 Hizballah operatives actively fundraising and recruiting for the organization. Much of that money is raised through charitable donations, but another significant source is organized crime. An EU report published in August described “a large network of Lebanese nationals offering money-laundering services to organized crime groups in the EU and using a share of the profits to finance terrorism-related activities. . . . An EU ban on Hizballah would thus put a serious crimp in its operations.

UNIFIL, by contrast, hasn’t put the slightest crimp in them. . . . To be fair, expecting UNIFIL to stop Hizballah was never realistic. As a senior Israeli official acknowledged this week, few countries would be willing to contribute troops to a mission that actually involved fighting Hizballah. . . . [Yet] UNIFIL has no problem making accusations against Israel. [A] November report that couldn’t “substantiate” Hizballah’s [illegal] arms transfers declared that UNIFIL had recorded 550 Israeli violations of Lebanon’s airspace and demanded their “immediate cessation.”

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: European Union, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Lebanon