Putin and Assad (R370).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Russia’s policies toward the Syrian conflict are focused on restoring stability
to the war-torn country, and are not necessarily committed to keeping President
Bashar Assad in power, local experts said on Tuesday.
interest in continuity in Syria, policy-makers in Moscow ultimately consider
Assad to be dispensable, according to Mordechai Kedar, a Syria expert and
research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Security Studies at Bar-Ilan
“The Russians are not suicidal. If they see that Assad
is finished, they will try to get the best out of the situation, which depends
on the developments on the ground,” Kedar told The Jerusalem Post.
while Western diplomats have sought to capitalize on Russia’s realist calculus
and see potential in Russia’s participation in the talks in Geneva, Kedar said
that he expects little convergence of interests, especially in light of the
Syrian army’s recent gains against the rebels.
“Russia’s behavior in the
negotiations, whether international or bilateral, will be as a result of efforts
to preserve Assad as much as possible and to ensure that the group that will
replace him will remain loyal to the axis of Iran, Russia, Iraq and Hezbollah,”
Although Syria remains Russia’s principal military and economic
bridgehead in the Arab world, the preservation of a Shi’ite regime in Damascus
is equally important to Moscow’s broader regional policy, in light of both
parties’ relationship with Iran. Aligned with Russia on issues of energy
production and nuclear proliferation, the Iranian regime staunchly supports
Syria as part of what is widely understood to be a “Shi’ite crescent” extending
toward Hezbollah on the Mediterranean shore.
Given Western support for a
rival Sunni bloc encompassing the Gulf Arab states and Turkey, Russian support
for the Iran-Syria axis can be seen in terms of what Marc Heller, a fellow at
the Institute for National Security Studies, described as “the continuing
ambitions of Russian leadership to be seen as a great power” in the post-Soviet
Despite Russia’s support for Iran’s bid for regional dominance, the
Kremlin’s interests in Syria are not necessarily at variance with Israel’s,
according to Heller, who emphasized the constructive tone of Russian-Israeli
relations and mutual concerns about Islamic radicalization in the
“The Russian preference seems to be to compartmentalize relations
to the extent that they can, and have good relations with everybody,” said
Although the UN has rejected President Vladimir Putin’s offer to
replace Austrian peacekeeping troops on the Golan Heights with a Russian
contingent, Kedar suggested that such a move could have been to Israel’s
“I myself would encourage the Russians to do it if I
could, because the presence of Russian soldiers will be very tempting for
jihadists aiming to kidnap them or kill them, mainly because Russia is the
biggest supporter of the Assad regime. This will put Russia and jihadists on a
collision course, which might at the end of the day work toward the interests of
Israel,” he said.
With Israel’s ambivalent policy guided by concerns
about radical Islamist activity on the Syrian- Israeli border, Heller expected
that the Syrian conflict will continue to see “some overlap between Israeli and