From Russia with love?

Russia is again using its UN Security Council veto to block diplomatic or financial sanctions against the Syrian regime

Vladimir Putin_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Vladimir Putin_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Efforts to stop Syria’s Bashar Assad from slaughtering his people failed again Saturday because two countries always help a beleaguered dictator: Russia and China.
“The [United Nations] Security Council voted 13 to 2 in favor of a resolution backing an Arab League peace plan for Syria, but the measure was blocked by Russia and China, which opposed what they saw as a potential violation of Syria’s sovereignty,” reported The New York Times.
When it comes to helping tyrants and terrorists, Russia and China always say they just protect sovereignty and independence. That claim is a bit thin when one sees how China behaves in Tibet, erasing its independence, and how Russia strangles Ukraine and Georgia, especially a 2008 war in Georgia to support Georgian separatists. But when it comes to Syria, Russia and China tell the world: “hands off!” About 7,000 Syrians have been killed in ten months of fighting, according to members of the Syrian opposition. Dissidents first tried to protest peacefully against Assad’s policies beginning ten months ago, but Bashar, like his father Hafez, responded with tanks and artillery.
He got diplomatic “supporting fire” and military aid from Russia.
Led by Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB official, Russia is again using its UNSC veto to block diplomatic or financial sanctions against the Syrian regime.
Russia did the same thing with attempts to stop bloodbaths in southern Sudan (where hundreds of thousands were murdered by the Janjaweed militia) and Iran’s brutal repression of its own dissidents (where elections were rigged and thousands were killed). Russia and China feel controlling strategic resources in the Gulf and Africa trumps lives, and keeping America and Israel off-balance is worth a little blood.
This bitterly disappoints US President Barack Obama who hoped Putin and his puppet president Dimitri Medvedev were ready for a historic “reset” of relations between Russia and the US, and between Russia and the world. But the Russians did not buy Obama’s message of “hope and change.”
Putin’s Russia, like the Russia of Leonid Brezhnev, still puts Russian strategic control ahead of human rights. It wants to hold port facilities in Syria at Tartus, on the Mediterranean, where the Russian fleet anchored in January. It wants to guard financial interests in Syria, including millions in arms, some not yet paid for.
If the bloody Assad regime disappears, Russian military and financial interests will be hurt. Collapse of the Assad regime would also mean the collapse of the power of the Allawite minority (about 12 percent of the population). Russia, like Iran, wants to stop this. Syria’s Allawite regime, Russia and Iran are invested in each other.
Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini recognized the secretive Allawite sect as a legitimate part of Shi’a Islam, but many Muslims consider the Allawites to be a renegade sect. From its standpoint, Iran needs an Allawite-led Syria to continue its penetration of Lebanon and its strategic reach to the Mediterranean.
The fact that Hamas terror leaders are beginning to flee Damascus worries Moscow and the ayatollahs in Tehran, who have used Syria as a base to spread influence inside the Palestinian community – both in Hamas and Fatah. Losing that base would be harmful, opening a path for others, like Islamist Turkey, to replace Iran.
The emergence of a Sunni-led regime in Syria will probably not lead to democracy overnight, but it would certainly hurt the Iran-Syria-Russia- North Korea axis that was represented by the nuclear reactor that the “peace-loving” Bashar Assad tried to install in his country in 2007 – a reactor that Israel reportedly destroyed.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dramatically embraced the “reset” in Russian thinking in a big ceremony in March 2009 where she presented Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a huge computer button marked “RESET.” Sadly, US officials got it all wrong, even the language.
Instead of “perezagruzka,” Russian for “reset,” Obama-Clinton and Co. used “peregruzka,” or “overload.”
SECRETARY CLINTON laughed at the error at the time, but it seems that the Obama administration really does suffer from conceptual “overload” and that a lot more than a computer button was lost in translation.
So the Russians, with the help of the Chinese, keep protecting Syria’s Assad, keep guarding the Iranian nuclear bomb program, and proving that they are not really interested in world peace but, rather, in pieces of the world. Actually, that is not surprising, because in Russian, “mir” can mean “peace” or “world.” So how do we know what they mean? We must watch what they do, and Russian officials insist they will continue selling strategic equipment to Syria and Iran.
“Russia is committed to international rules on exporting arms and it doesn’t violate any international obligations,” asserted Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, in a press conference in Moscow on February 2.
Maybe it was all a translation error, and the Obama-Clinton vision of “hope and change” became the Putin-Medvedev view of “hype and chaos.”
Dr. Michael Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, to be published in March by Threshold/Simon and Schuster.