Why Russia protects Assad
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. (Getty Images)
January 26th, 2012
01:00 PM ET

Why Russia protects Assad

Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.

On Tuesday, the U.S., UK and French ambassadors to the United Nations sharply criticized "irresponsible" arms sales to the Syrian regime. This was a thinly veiled reference to Moscow's close defense-industrial cooperation with Damascus.

In recent months, Russia has been Syria's foremost protector in the international arena. It has taken on this role because of Syria's economic significance for its arms export industry, its role as the host of Russia's only military base outside the former Soviet Union - and its concern that anti-government protesters in Moscow might be inspired by a successful popular uprising farther afield.

Syria is one of the top five foreign buyers of Russian defense equipment, receiving 6% of all its arms exports in 2010. Contracts for further deliveries are worth about $4 billion, and are critical for some companies' financial survival. Russian exporters fear that regime change in Syria would lead to the annulment of these agreements, as new rulers may pursue opportunities to purchase weapons from other countries.

The uprising has not deterred Russia from continuing to send weapons to Syria, including a shipment of various munitions that came to attention this month after the ship carrying the weapons made an unscheduled stop in Cyprus.

In addition to military contracts, Russian companies have other investments in Syria, primarily in natural gas extraction. These are valued at approximately $20 billion and include a pipeline and a liquefied natural gas production facility. Moreover, Russia has given up all but one of its military facilities outside the former Soviet Union - the sole remaining presence is its naval logistics facility in Tartus. The base’s primary purpose is to repair and resupply Russian navy ships transiting the Mediterranean.

While the Syrian opposition has not made any statements regarding the future of Tartus, Russia has long depended entirely on President Bashar al-Assad and cannot expect to have good relations with his successors, especially if they come to power by force.

While the 'Arab awakenings' have little direct connection to the rallies against President Vladimir Putin's political order, Russian leaders feel that they are surrounded by a tide of anti-incumbent protests - and see each government toppled as potentially feeding the mood throughout the world. A related fear is that the overthrow of the Assad regime may feed a resurgence of anti-government protests in Iran, bringing political instability even closer to Russia's borders.

Furthermore, Russian leaders are concerned about the gains made by Islamist forces in the region, particularly in Egypt. The twin dangers of popular overthrow of local autocrats and subsequent electoral victories by Islamic parties have raised fears about an Islamist takeover in one or more Central Asian states. Though such a scenario appears unlikely, it is a particularly sensitive issue for Russia because it would likely lead to a significant increase in migration inflows from the region, further destabilising an already volatile domestic political situation.

Russian leaders will use the Syrian crisis as an opportunity to show that their country is still a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. They will also press their case that overthrowing the current Syrian regime would lead to further instability in the region - which might even spread to the former Soviet Union. As a result, Russia will do its utmost to prevent the fall of Assad.

For samples of the Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, click here.

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Topics: Russia • Syria

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. FACTS

    THESE ARE FACTS, BASHAR AL KALAB OF SYRIA KILLED 8692 TO DATE, PUT 132000 IN PRISON, HIS ARMY RA..PED 2000 SUNNI WOMEN AND 2300 KURDS, AND MORE THAN 500 CHRISTEANS.
    THEY ARE ONLY 12% OF POPLUATION CONTROLING 88% OF SUNNI .KURDS AND OTHERS.
    IRAN PAY RUSSIA CASH AND RUSSIA SEND WEAPONS SECOND HANDS ARMS TO SYRIA, IRAQ SEND CASH AND TERRORISTS TO HEL ASAD TO KILL OTHER PEOPLE AND ALL THOSE HELPING HIZBOALLAH, RUSSIA HATE MUSLIMS AND THEY ARE NOT ALLOWING DEMOCRACY IN THE CHECHNIA AND OTHER MUSLIM STATES INSIDE RUSSIA THEY FEAR THAT RUSSIA IS NEXT. RUSSIAN PEOPLE WILL REVOLT AGAIN AGANIST THOSE COMMUNISTS , MIDDLEAST SHOULD GET RED OF ALL RUSSIAN EMBASIES AND DONT DEAL WITH THEM.

    January 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Max

      То, что эти люди погибли еще не значит, что в их смерти виноват Ассад. Россия не будет идти на поводу необоснованных обвинений стран, которые заинтересованы в свержении правительства Сирии и установлении над ним протектората США для дальнейшего продвижения на Восток, к Ирану. Мы признаем, что уровень беспорядка в Сирии просто катастрофический и нам очень жаль, что пострадало очень много гражданского населения. Однако вина правительства Сирии не доказана, оно легитимно и потому не может быть свергнуто извне, что было бы недопустимо даже если оно таковым не являлось бы. Хотелось бы напомнить аналогичные события в Венесуэле, во время свержения Уго Чавеса, когда причиной стали стали столкновения полиции и гражданского населения, убитые и раненые были с обеих сторон. Как выяснилось позднее, и американская сторона признала это, были использованы наемники, чтобы спровоцировать конфликт. Американские снайперы сначала убили кого-то из толпы митингующих, затем полицейского, и начался конфликт. Сирия – это продолжение большой игры США на Ближнем Востоке по уже отработанным сценариям. Пока США не уймет свой пыл, мира в регионе вам не увидеть никогда, даже если все арабские страны пойдут по демократическому пути.

      January 30, 2012 at 2:33 am |
    • tonhuethong

      I insisted that you only hear of the news Rumors, presidents have killed innocent people, but they do not own hands. Such as Mr. Court, death many innocent prisoners. who will try to ask someone guilty and not guilty. If the United States believe in God, I will ensure there is no war and that our earth will be peaceful.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:04 am |
  2. George Patton

    With the United States, Great Britain and France breathing down his neck, President Bashar al-Assad needs all the protection he can get! We sorely need a balance of power in the world today because without it, as one can plainly see, there's a lot of unnecessary bloodshed going on right now!!!

    January 26, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  3. bobalu

    What they are failing to consider are the future financial consequences of betting on the wrong horse.

    January 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  4. Noor afrax

    man and his father staying in the leadership for decades is prejudicial.And Obama who scored with Osama and Somali pirates can order the SEALs and give freedom to the people. So that in case last world war gets its second stage he asks manpower including my team who would keep the grounds after greenback is received.
    Money talks in terms of diplomacy

    January 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    That Putin stands by Assad has serveral reasons. The former has little regard for weak leaders. That's why he and Gaddafi had a good relationship. Had the Libyan dictator cut the arms deal with Russia before his regime fell, he might still be around. Now Russia doesn't want to lose another ally – Syria – in the region. Their relationship is seen as historic ever since Hafez al Assad, Bashar's father let the Russians used Syria's amenities on the Mediterranean for its Black Sea fleet.

    January 26, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • nardami

      I think you mean Syrian port on the Black Sea...Syria has no coast on the Mediterranean. Anyway, this is Russia playing the game the US has played throughout the world. Odd how easy it is to see, but how upset people get in the US when it is pointed out to them. (Not directed at your post, but at others who posted on this blog)

      January 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Don't you really know WHERE Syria is?

        January 29, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
      • k

        gO BACK TO SCHOOL AND STUDY GEOGRAPHY

        February 14, 2012 at 5:00 am |
      • Mark

        Syria map: http://g.co/maps/rv5ue

        February 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  6. Ameena J.

    The Russians are always on the wrong side of history: supported Serb massacres of Bosnians; massacred Chechnyans fighting for their freedom; supported the madman Gadafi till the last minute and now continue to funnel support and arms to the butcher of Syria. May this be their last harrah and may the revolution come to roost in their own country.

    January 27, 2012 at 2:55 am |
    • nardami

      The US's track record is even worse, primarily due to the great span of support it cast. The US supported Ghaddafi for a decade before the revolution, and supports the Al Qaeda terrorists who played a principal role in the overthrow. Obama supported Mubarak up to the end, and the US is firmly behind the Egyptian Army...the US had the audacity to suggest putting Mubarek's #2 in command when they saw it was a losing battle to back Mubarek (not understanding he was hated equally by the people). South and Central America are littered with countries who had legitimate governments the US helped overthrow, only to install a strong man (remeber Noriega). It comes with the imperialsit agenda...when foreign policy is based on selfish interests, you suffer the blowback someday.

      January 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
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    January 27, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  8. Flipider.com

    They were probably the same manufacturer of the weapons that shot down the civilian Korean Airlines Flight with 269 passengers.

    January 28, 2012 at 3:19 am |
  9. Benedict

    When the Arab Spring began, the United States was caught unawares as was the rest of the world and after a tentative approach,they have come to realize is that the revolution has come to stay. Russian for all it's proclamation of democracy,is a society ruled by an totalitarian-styled regime and they can no more recognize the right of the Syrian people to determine their own fate,then they recognize that they aren't the only hope for the future of Russia.

    January 28, 2012 at 5:32 am |
  10. Paul Jaramillo

    The world has to stop meddling in the internal affairs of Syria.
    The end result is a failed state, and a radical Islamist terror state.
    Bashar Al Assad's rule is keeping radical Muslims from attacking Christians.
    The Arab spring is a farce and will result in more enemies to have to fight.
    If any believes that democracy is breaking out in the world is fooling themselves.
    The deaths of people in Syria is terrible, but the world cannot intervene everywhere.
    Who is to say where or when to interfere in national or internal unrest?
    The only reason for pressure to intervene, is due to media attention, not because it is within our national interest.
    Leave the leader of Syria alone and let they fix the issue themselves. Stay out!!
    nardami: You liar, we never supported Al Qaeda!!
    Assad is the better alternative than leaving Syria to blood thirsty Muslim fanatics.
    He must keep these fanatics under control. What ever happens, stay out!!

    February 1, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  11. Jack

    Change is In the air Obama went to Egypt and the word noticed but for the people living there is it good they can't walk in the streets they they can't go to the Soccer games. Or a funeral Muslims killing Muslims is the change good and for whom .

    February 4, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  12. Dave R

    And of course Putin and Russia benefit when there is (managed) instability in the Middle East due to the risk premium it adds to oil futures...

    February 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  13. Kenneth M. Burke

    I believe that every people deserves the government it gets! We truly do not know how many are opposed to the Syrian Regime and how many are against it – or how many don't care. We must stay out of the conflict – have we learned nothing from Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention Libya and Egypt)? These people dance and scream on the graves of Americans that their terrorists kill. Let them kill each other until there is no one left. Only then will there peace in the Middle East. Let the madmen deplete their own numbers!

    February 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
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