Yanukovich’s poison is Assad’s meat

Russia deepening its military intervention into Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula is good news to the embattled Syrian leader

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

The Russian-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is no doubt enjoying a great deal of relief having seen his “courageous” ally President Vladimir Putin moving bluntly and swiftly on Ukraine in bold indifference to the U.S.-led West’s warnings.

Russia deepening its military intervention into Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, paying no attention to U.S. President Barack Obama’s firm warning, Ukraine’s political crisis turning into a Washington-Moscow tug of war – a resurrection of a new Cold War era indeed – and Putin presenting himself as a determined adversary to the West, have all been good pieces of news to the embattled Syrian leader.

In one way or another, such developments in the world’s political arena have served as a big boost to the Syrian regime’s morale. Assad is at ease now, seeing his ally Putin acting decisively and daringly on Ukraine which Russia regards as part of its sphere of influence.

Struggle for influence

Placing Syria within the Washington-Moscow struggle for influence has been a tactic for the embattled Syrian regime to ensure existence, or better to say survival, benefiting from Russia’s eagerness as opposed to the U.S.’s reluctance over many international affairs.

However, the Russians’ boldness on Ukraine and, less so on Syria, has to do with their endeavor to project Moscow as Washington’s adversary, with Putin – Russia’s strongman – trying to present his county to the world as the embodiment of the Soviet Socialist Republics (SSR). But for political, geopolitical and economic reasons, Russia can’t be the embodiment of the SSR.

Assad’s regime can be said to be the number one beneficiary of the current Ukrainian crisis

Raed Omari

On the other hand, the Americans’ indecisiveness – or what has been seen and interpreted as so – has to do primarily with their confidence of their country as the world’s unrivaled superpower. For the U.S., Russia is still seen as a regional power and still below the status of the world’s second superpower not only militarily but also politically, economically and geopolitically.

Inasmuch as boldness has been used as a tactic by Russia to ensure a presence on the world’s political arena, indecisiveness has been a policy for the U.S. and not in any way a sign of weakness. America’s inaction on Syria, though not welcomed by its strategic regional allies, has been their “best action.” For the Americans, many elements incorporated within the Syrian war, including chiefly Syria’s chemical arsenal and radical militants, need to be settled for their moment of decisiveness comes. Syria has also come as a chance for the Russians to tell the Americans that “we are there,” following their failure in Libya. The same can be said about Ukraine, of course.

History proves

History proves that when it comes to an emerging U.S.’s firmness over a world’s affair, the Russians are always left with humble political maneuvering with the 1995 Bosnian/Serb war, the 2003 Iraq invasion, Libya and even Syria being just proof for that.

Following the Aug. 21 chemical attack on Damascus’ Ghouta suburb, the Russians, except for some kind of “coy objection,” have remained silent over President Barack Obama’s threat of a military action on Syria as a punishment over having his red-line warning crossed by the Syrian regime.

This account of Russia’s international status, as opposed to that of the U.S., was necessary to show the extent of benefit the Syrian regime can gain from its alliance with Moscow. However, it is difficult to say that Assad’s regime was, on several occasions, lucky to benefit from external incidents that helped immensely to divert the world’s attention from war-torn Syria to other places. Inasmuch as Egypt’s June 30 revolution has helped considerably divert the world’s attention from Syria to Egypt, the situation in Ukraine has become now the world’s first and foremost focus.

Number one beneficiary

Although Assad’s regime can be said to be the number one beneficiary of the current Ukrainian crisis, it has to be made clear that Ukraine is not Syria. I mean the resurrected echoes of the Washington-Moscow Cold War and its effect on the course of incidents and action can be better manifested in Ukraine more than in Syria. Ukraine, not Syria, is the most serious East-West standoff since the end of the Cold War era.

There is prevalent in the Western rhetoric on Ukraine a kind of understanding of Russia’s sensitivity towards a country it sees as part of its sphere of influence. The Europeans understand that Crimea was part of Russia until 1954 and is Ukraine’s only region with a majority of ethnic Russian population, where Russia has also headquartered its Black Sea Fleet. But this understanding does not legitimize violating Ukraine’s political sovereignty, let alone a Russian military action.

However, to show the limitations of Russia’s world influence as opposed to that of the U.S., the Americans might increase their posture on Syria. There are voices inside the U.S. Administration and Congress pushing for increasing pressure on Moscow led by Senator John McCain.

There surfaced again the talk about training the Syrian rebels by U.S. forces, the intention to provide lethal weapons to the Syrian opposition and even establishing a no-fly zone over Syria.

All in all, the Syrian regime is benefiting from the situation in Ukraine and also proved to be lucky. But, the extent of its benefit and luck is all determined by the U.S. reaffirming its status as the world’s unchallenged power.


Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

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