Sami Moubayed writes: Whenever the world seemed to start caving in around them, Syrian politicians have leaned on the Russians for support. Moscow, both now and during the Soviet era, has always been Syria’s “security blanket”. Syrian leaders, however, have almost equally misjudged how far Russia was willing to go to help them.
In 1956, then-president Shukri al-Quwatli visited Moscow seeking Russian support for Egypt in the infamous Suez War. He roared at the Kremlin: “Syria wants you to send in that big Red Army that defeated [Adolf] Hitler!”
A few years earlier, president Husni al-Za’im threatened at a press conference: “If the Americans continue to provoke me, I will extend my hand to the Russians. Yes, I will do that. I will go to Moscow and let a Third World War erupt from right over here, from Damascus!”
Today, 63 years later, there are many in Damascus who, like Husni al-Za’im, wrongly believe that Moscow would indeed ignite a “Third World War” for the sake of Syria. To show their support for the strongman of Moscow, these same Syrians came out demonstrating in favor of Vladimir Putin, the man behind his country’s strong pro-Syria stance, at the gates the Russian Embassy in Damascus. Carrying photos of Putin, they wished him luck in his bid for re-election to the Russian presidency. A senior Lebanese figure recently returned from Moscow and was quoted saying: “I heard from the Russians that if Putin stays, then [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad stays.”
These Syrians are waiting for Putin to return to the Kremlin. Others, however, are waiting for him to change his positions on Syria shortly after his re-election. They believe that he has stood behind Syria since disturbances began a year ago for one reason only: to re-establish his country’s image and position as a powerful and influential Middle East broker – as a superpower that can stand up for its allies should the need arise.
It’s not about the Soviet-era supply and maintenance base in the port city of Tartus, dating back to 1971. Russia’s macro-interests are much more strategic. Putin was seemingly telling the world: “No solutions for the Middle East can be reached anymore in complete disregard for Russian interests. If you want things done, you have to do it through us.”
Apart from that, everything is on the table for the Russians, including regime change in Syria.