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The history of alliance between the Russian and Syrian regimes

russia pic.jpgDAMASCUS, July 17, 2011 - We observe the desperate attempts of the Russian Federation to save the Syrian government. The pretext is that the Syrian regime is serious about making reforms, and that the opposition is armed and poses danger to the stability of the entire area. But the real reasons behind the Russian position are far from its public statements.

Historical background . The Soviet Union emerged victorious from WWII with domination of various world’s regions, in addition to ambition to control the Middle East (ME).


Communist parties in the ME flourished and offered the “inevitable solution” (communism) to the poor masses.


But new unfavorable factor was introduced into the equation as President Nasser of Egypt took power in 1952 and called for anti communist  /anti West  socialist Arabic nationalism. Nasser  became the sole hero of the Arabs and entered into a complicated alliance with the Soviets. He needed them for arms and economic support, and they needed him to have influence in the area. It was an alliance of necessity, built on beneficiary principles and deep hate.


What made matters worse to the soviets  was that Syria’s only free elected president ever Shukri Quoatli  entered into a union agreement with Egypt in 1952 when he felt that the local communists were about to control Syria. The United Arabic Republic( 1958-1961 ) was declared under the leadership of Nasser ( Egypt and Syria).


The nature of this alliance was perhaps one of the main causes behind the virtual end of Nasser.


Cairo, Mid May 1967: The Soviet ambassador arrived to Nasser’s house late at night to inform him that there are certain intelligence reports that the Israelis are massing troops on the Syrian border and plan to attack Syria to remove the pro Soviets   Baathist  regime which took power via a  military coupe in 1963. Although his chief of Staff general Fawzi informed him that the Soviet’s information are untrue, Nasser found himself in an awkward position. He knew that his army is not ready for a war, but the hero inside him pushed him into  the disastrous defeat “The Six days War”.

The Soviet - Syrian Baathists alliance 1963-1989 

The Baath party, which has ruled Syria since 1963 is, in theory, a socialist nationalist party as well. But in reality the party has, over the years, become an empty shell after defense minister General Hafez Assad  took the presidency in 1970. It has practically become dominated  by the new super rich class which was allowed, by the regime, to control a large section of the economy through  hyper level of corruption.


The Soviets lost Egypt after president Sadat (1970-1981) decided to make a strategic shift and expelled all 15000 Soviet experts from Egypt. So they decided to throw all their weight behind the Syrian regime.


To President Hafez, the soviets were reasonably sound allies, and also tools he brilliantly used in his dialogue with the USA, and in his efforts to maintain power  .


In the opinion of the soviets, he was dependent on them, and dependence always begets subservience.


The Soviets armed the Syrian army, trained it and provided political support to the regime. They supported the president in his 1983 power struggle with his brother Rifaat (Patrick Seale’s book , “Asad”, pages: 433-440).

The Russian Federation - Syrian regime alliance 1991-2011 

The Russian people revolted and the Soviet empire collapsed . President Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) neglected Syria but  his economic policies  led to the emergence of the “oligarchs" who, through their immense wealth, wielded significant political influence. Such classes always emerge after a country is ruled by a directorship like that of the communists.


Then came president Putin (2000-2008) , then PM Putin ( 2008-2011).


Mr. Putin was raised in a house of devoted communists. His grandfather was the Cook of Lenin and later Stalin. In his youth he became a member of the Communist Party until dissolution in 1991. From 1975 to 1992 he was an officer in the infamous KGB.


Putin's public image was forged by his tough handling of the war against the poor Chechens. Russia killed thousands of them and destroyed entire cities.


Putin revived relations with Syria and saw in president Bachar Assad (reached power in 2000 following  his father’s death ) a reasonable ally .


Although Putin made reasonable liberal reforms, the Oligarchs still have relative dominance in alliance with his regime. He still looks to the past and considers that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the result of an imperialist conspiracy. He, supported by his Armenian rooted foreign minister Mr. Lavrov, still believes that Russia is a super power which interests collide most of the time with those of the West.


Putin supports the Syrian regime for the following reasons:


1. He sees in it an ally in his global struggle;

2. The two regimes share anti West sentiments;

3. They both are relatively dominated by oligarchs (Syria ranks 127, while Russia ranks 154 in the Corruption Perceptions Index).

4. Putin wrongly considers that the Syrian regime is in struggle with Islamists whose ideology is identical to that of his arch enemies, the Chechens and the other Islamic rebels in southern Russia.


Written by Basel Adnan, Damascus

Diplomatic Aspects Associate, Damascus


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