Almost 90 Russians, including children, have returned to Moscow from Damascus. Russian citizens in Syria are being evacuated ahead of possible airstrikes by the West. It is a sign that despite its opposition to military intervention, Moscow is now resigned to the likelihood of an attack.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position and could not hide his annoyance at arguments put forward by the US and its allies.
“It’s been officially announced in Washington, London and Paris that there is incontrovertible evidence of the guilt of the Syrian authorities regarding the use of chemical weapons. They cannot produce any evidence, but keep on saying that the “red line” has been crossed and they cannot wait any longer before intervening,” said Lavrov.
Russia has been opposing foreign military action for months, tirelessly arguing it will be a violation of international law if there is no UN approval. Moscow instead favours a political solution as it tries to bolster allies in Damascus.
Moscow has managed to block any UN action by exercising its veto at the Security Council.
This is not the first time. In fact, Russia has cast more veto votes than any other Security Council member in the 68 years the UN has existed. The Soviet country’s vetoes count for nearly half of all the vetoes in the Council’s history.
It may be a way for Moscow to chip away at any perceived image of power held by Europe and the US. But some say that saying “no” so often actually weakens Russia’s standing because it makes the Security Council less relevant.
However, there is history behind Moscow’s relationship with Damascus. During the Soviet era and the Cold War, Syria was an important ally in the Middle East.
In addition, trade relations are very strong. There are several Russian oil companies in Syria.
Moscow wrote off 73 percent of Syria’s 10 billion euro debt to Russia. Damascus buys 10 percent of the arms exported by Russia.
Tartus naval supply station is Russia’s only military base outside the former USSR and became the cornerstone of military cooperation between Moscow and Damascus. Moscow pulled out all military and non-diplomatic personnel in June, but the base remains vital. It provides Russia’s only direct access to the Mediterranean.
US forces are ready to carry out airstrikes on Syria any time the order is given by US President Barack Obama, according to US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.
At the same time, some politicians in the Middle East are turning to Syria’s ally Russia, such as Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour who said: “Russia has enough options to stop any military operation against Syria”.
Is this true and how is the situation viewed in Moscow?
Euronews spoke to Vyacheslav Matouzov, a former diplomat in the region. Matouzov is now President of Society of Friendship and Cooperation with Arab countries.
If there’s a military operation, how would Moscow react?
“We do not direct the US government or its armed forces, it would be a purely American decision. Moscow can not prevent strikes. Russia, in turn, may provide technical assistance to the Syrian army.
“The planned strikes would most probably be carried out from the four US warships in the region or military bases in Jordan or Turkey.
“The airstrikes could damage the Syrian military and civilian infrastructure in the country, but the US would not succeed in undermining the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad would remain in power.
“That is why several members of the Syrian opposition are openly against international military aggression. Although they hate Assad, if there was any outside aggression, they would rise up to defend their country. The opposition is divided.”
If, as you say, it will be impossible to stop the strikes, what are the geopolitical consequences for Russia?
“It would have little meaning. Of course, through propaganda Russia could then be portrayed as a weak country that is not able to protect its allies in the Middle East.
“In my opinion, the consequences would be far more negative for the US. If the current Syrian regime and the current political system remain in place after US military action, America will have completely missed all its goals.
“America’s goal is to change the balance of power inside Syria, to move it in favour of the armed opposition groups, and I think that this can never be achieved.”
Could there be any advantages for Russia if there is US military intervention?
“If the Syrian regime holds up and Russia takes a reasoned approach – that is avoiding open confrontation with Britain, France and the US – Russia’s relationship with Arab countries would benefit.
“Russia could offer technical assistance to Syria to help the regime withstand any military intervention.
“I think in the end a lot will depend on the media context – what actually happens in any military operation and how its aftermath is portrayed in the media.
“I hope that Russia will find the right way to explain and represent its position on this crisis.”