Russian campaigner says Putin’s policy on Syria is all about oil

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Russia’s staunch backing of ally Syria can be pinned squarely on President Vladimir Putin’s need to buttress oil prices in order to protect his own regime, ardent Kremlin opponent Garry Kasparov said Tuesday.

The former chess king turned political campaigner said Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be seen through the domestic Russian prism, rather than as a need to maintain the alliance with Damascus or spar diplomatically with the West.

“In supporting Assad, I think Putin not only supports someone from the dictators’ brotherhood, but he does something very important for his own survival,” Kasparov told reporters in Geneva.

Kasparov, one of the key players in the informal opposition group The Other Russia, likened Putin to a mafia godfather who needs to both sow fear and offer favors.

“The boss demands 100 percent loyalty, but in return for 100 percent protection,” he said.

“What is the number one priority for Putin today? Cash. He needs money, to buy off the bureaucracy and to buy favors, or at least time to make the Russian people, the majority of the crowd, quiet. Money in Putin’s Russia comes from oil and gas. So oil prices become absolutely crucial for the survival of the regime,” he added.

Kasparov underlined that in 2000, when oil prices were around $20 a barrel, Russia’s economic growth was rosy.

At the helm continuously since then, either as premier or president, Putin has smothered democracy while using oil wealth to buy off potential critics, rather than invest wisely, according to Kasparov.

Now, even at around $100 a barrel, Russia faces stagnation and a growing budget deficit, he said, and a fall to below $80 would be a major blow to Putin’s system.

“It seems that the trend now is no longer up. It looks down. Anything that helps oil prices to climb, to change the trend, is positive. What is the greatest factor that may add to oil prices? Fear of war in the Middle East,” Kasparov claimed.

With no sign of an end to the spiraling Syria conflict, which broke out in March 2011, there are increasing concerns that other nations in the region could be dragged into the highly sectarian civil war.

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