Why is Russia in Syria? Part 6 Opposition to the West
Read Part 5 Here.
Russia is a country that spans two continents, having one foot in Europe and another foot in Asia. This geography, with the resulting cultural admixture, has caused Russia to be different than and aloof from Western Europe. The Europeans looked at Russia as being a mysterious and rather barbarous land. On the other hand the Russians, while in certain respects seeing Europe as being a source of enlightenment and adopting certain elements from Western culture, were distrustful of their Western counterparts. In many ways this distrust was well justified as Western Europeans on numerous occasions attempted to conquer Russian lands. The invasions of the Teutons, Napoleon and Hitler have helped to form the Russian psyche towards the West.
Furthermore the dichotomy between Russia and Europe is also a result of religion. While both are Christians, they represent two schismatic branches, the Russian being Orthodox and the European being Catholic and Protestant. Since the schism between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, there has been hostility between the two sects, and this hostility has been passed on to the Russian Orthodox Church and by extension to the Russian people. The Russians remembered that it was the Catholics who sacked Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusades, and that Catholic France and Germany both invaded the Russian motherland.
Many devout Orthodox Russians and even the not so devout see the West as a land of decadence, of immorality and even as the abode of Satan. One may be shocked that this is in fact the sentiment of Russians towards the West, but all one has to do is the follow the Russian blog Mat Rodina or the Russophilic website Soul of the East to see such sentiments expressed.[1,2] Beyond surfing the internet, one can just listen to what President Putin says. During a state of the nation address he characterized the West as moving “away from their roots, including Christian values. … Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”
Historically, culturally and religiously Russia has been distinct from, and in a sense opposed to, Europe. In addition the current geopolitical views of Putin and his advisers are also distinct and opposed to the West. The Russian geopolitical view of the world can be termed Eurasianism, in which Russia acts as the nexus for the political and economic conjunction of Europe and Asia. This worldview while inclusive of the Western world, is not Western-centric, but is multilateral and in general skewed towards the East (i.e. Asia).
In the Russian view the current world order, which has existed since the end of the Cold War, is a unipolar one in which one superpower, the US, is attempting to exert its hegemony throughout the world. During his UN General Assembly speech, Putin articulated this viewpoint by stating, “after the end of the Cold War, a single centre of domination emerged in the world. And then those who found themselves at the top of that pyramid were tempted to think that if we are so strong and exceptional then we know better than anyone what to do.” To Putin the unipolar model is based on “self-conceit.”
In contrast to the American unipolar model, the Eurasian multipolar model accommodates other world powers. As Putin said, “We are all different. And we should respect that. No one has to conform to a single development model that someone has once and for all recognized as the only right one.” In the multipolar model there would be multiple world powers essentially treating each others as equals having their own regional spheres of influence where they would predominate. Yet these great power would interact with one another bilaterally. Economic and political deals would be negotiated between the two in which both would benefit. In this model no nation would have the impunity to act as it pleases and impose its self on other nations.
In many faucets there is a dichotomy and opposition between Russia and the West. One believes in multilateralism, the other unilateralism. One is Orthodox, the other Catholic/Protestant. One is religious, the other secular. For all of these reasons it comes as little surprise that Russia would adopt a foreign policy that is contrary to that of the West.
In Syria, for whatever exact reason, America and its European and Sunni Arab ‘vassals’ want to oust Bashar al-Assad from power. What exactly they intend or hope to replace that regime with remains unclear, but the point is that the West’s desire is to topple Assad. In the view of Russia if this were to happen then the hegemony of the unipower would be furthered and then the unipower would move on, emboldened, to its next geopolitical target, possibly Iran. Thus it is in Russian’s geopolitical interest to prevent the toppling of Assad by thwarting the West’s plans for Syria. If Russia props up Assad’s regime then this furthers their multipolar agenda for the world and undermines the current unipolar model.
Furthermore, if Assad falls then he may be replaced by a pro-American regime, which would go against Russia’s geopolitical interests. This view was admitted to on the Dobrovolec.org website, which represents a Russian ‘non-governmental’ organization founded in 2014 so as to recruit Russian volunteers to fight in the conflict in the Ukraine. Just recently they announced they were looking for:
“volunteers to participate in special activities as part of the Russian mission aimed at stabilizing the situation in the [Middle East] region, protecting important facilities, and strengthening Russia’s military-political presence in Syria in order to prevent the formation there of a pro-American or extremist religious regime that will threaten the entire civilized world.”
And while the Dobrovolec organization is not officially associated with the Russian government, it seems likely that an organization that recruits Russians to fight in the Ukraine and Syria has to have some covert connection with the Russian government. In other words it is likely that the Dobrovolec organization knows what they are talking about.
Related to the anti-Western sentiment motivating Russian intervention in Syria, is the fact that this intervention can also serve to humiliate the US and President Obama. For a state to act as the unipolar hegemon of the world requires that that state is respected and feared by the other states in the world. Now we can ask ourselves do the nations of the world fear, let alone respect Obama, especially given his policies and behavior with respect to Syria and the Middle East. For example, if one reads the opinion columns of Al-Arabiya, one will constantly see Obama described as weak, vacillating and being more akin to an aloof academic than the commander of the most powerful military in the world. People may remember Obama calling ISIL the JV team, yet a year of American airstrikes have not prevented the JV team from capturing Palmyra and Ramadi. To combat the JV team in Syria, America spent $500 million to ultimately train only around 50 Syrian men.
Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have been pointing out the rather inept American response to ISIL. While on Russian television Putin wondered, “I cannot understand some of our partners in Europe and the States whenever they say they are fighting terrorism but we do not see any real results.” While on another program Lavrov chimed in, “We have very few specifics which could explain what the US is exactly doing in Syria and why the results of so many combat sorties are so insignificant.”
What is being implied in these statements is that either the Americans are completely incompetent for not, with their great military power, being able to greatly damage ISIL or they do not desire to significantly degrade ISIL so that they can be used to defeat Assad. In other words America is weak willed or hypocritical, or they “simply have mush for brains,” as Putin has remarked.
As weak, farcical or hypocritical as America appears to be in the Middle East, by Russia intervening in Syria this will further reinforce this view of America. If Putin is able to successfully maintain Assad in power, then his political prestige will increase and that of America will diminish. Furthermore if Putin is able to effectively and promptly degrade or wipe out ISIL, then America and Obama will be further marginalized as they were unable to greatly hinder the JV team. If Putin’s Syrian gambit succeeds then America’s position as the unipolar hegemon will be discredited, while Russia will be shown to be a puissant world power on par with the US, capable of intervening and influencing countries far from its border. This will increase the validity of Russia’s multipolar geopolitical world order.
Read Part 7 Here.