Why Russia continues to back Assad

United Nations has no intention of sending troops to Syria, even if the Russians and Chinese didn't veto the decision

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Syria has suspended its peace mission. “The observers will not be conducting patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice,” said the commander of the 300-strong multinational observer force, Norwegian General Robert Mood.

This decision by the observer force is fully justified: its observers were being prevented from visiting massacre sites by the Syrian army, and yet their mere presence created the false impression that the international community was “doing something”. So now the international community will be under even greater pressure to “do something” else about the Syrian tragedy. That means military action against the Assad regime — but the Russians will veto that.

Russian diplomacy is not usually so clumsy. None of the Western great powers will actually send troops to intervene in Syria: the Syrian army is too strong, and the sectarian and ethnic divisions in the country are far too messy.

So why don’t the Russians just promise to abstain in any UN Security Council vote on military intervention? No such vote will happen anyway, and Moscow would expose the hypocrisy of the Western powers that are pretending to demand action and blaming the Russians (and the Chinese) for being the obstacle.

It’s stupid to bring such opprobrium on your own country when you don’t have to, but both President Vladimir Putin’s elective dictatorship in Russia and the Communist Party in China fear that one day they might face foreign intervention themselves. There must therefore be no legal precedent for international action against a regime that is merely murdering its own people on its own sovereign soil.

In reality, there is one kind of justice for the great powers and another for weaker states, and neither Moscow nor Beijing would ever face Western military intervention even if they were crushing non-violent protests by their own people, let alone drowning an armed revolt in blood.

But we are dealing here with the nightmare fantasies of regimes that secretly know they are illegitimate. They never acknowledge it in public, and they don’t discuss it directly even in private. But they know it nevertheless, and they understand that illegitimacy means vulnerability.

It doesn’t matter that Russia or China can simply veto any UN resolution that is directed against them. It makes no difference that no sane government in the rest of the world would commit the folly of sending troops to intervene in either of these giants. Paranoid fears cannot be dissolved by the application of mere reason.

The Russian and Chinese vetoes on the Security Council give them complete protection from foreign military intervention, but they still worry about it. And they look with horror at the phenomenon of non-violent revolutions that has been removing authoritarian regimes with such efficiency, from the ones that overthrew Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and almost overthrew the Chinese regime in 1989 down to the Arab ones of today.

Now, in Syria, they see both of these threats coalescing. First, for eight months, they watch strictly non-violent protests — despite some thousands of killings by the Syrian state — undermine the Assad regime.

Then, when some of the protesters start fighting back and the regime responds with even greater violence, bombarding city centres and committing open massacres of villagers, they hear the Western powers begin to talk about their “responsibility to protect”, with the (deliberately misleading) implication that they are contemplating direct military intervention in Syria to stop it.

So Russia and China will veto any Security Council resolution that condemns the Assad regime, and certainly any resolution that hints at military intervention. Assad must survive, not because he buys a few billion dollars worth of Russian arms and gives Russia a naval base in the Mediterranean, but because his overthrow would be a precedent that, they imagine, might one day be used against them.

Utter nonsense, but it means that the Russians, in particular, will go on taking the blame for the UN’s immobility and lending cover to the West’s pretense that it would act against Assad if only the Russians would get out of the way. They will protect Assad right down to the bitter end — and it may be very bitter indeed.




Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.



Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alan can be seen picking organic ambrosia apples on his Keremeos orchard, Old Tower Farm. The provincial government has partnered with the farm owners to lease a portion of their orchard to a new farmer. (Old Tower Farm photo)
Budding farmer gets his start on Keremeos orchard

Kanver Brares, 21, will grow the fruits of his labour on leased land at Old Tower Farms

Corsac the cat is up for adoption at Critteraid.
Critteraid hosts three adoption Sundays

More than 40 cats looking for their forever homes

Abigail McCluskey is in the Netherlands training to compete in the World Cup next month. She joins 12 Canadian speedskaters for the international competition later this month. (Dave Holland CSI Calgary)
Penticton speed skater in Netherlands for World Cup

Abigail McCluskey will be skating the long track in the international competition

Summerland Middle School
COVID exposure at Summerland Middle School

The person who tested positive was at school Jan. 11

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Vernon’s Heron Grove retirement facility. (Good Samaritan Society photo)
Resident of Vernon’s Heron Grove retirement home tests positive for COVID-19

Interior Health has not declared an outbreak at the facility

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

(Vernon Search and Rescue/Facebook)
Vernon Search and Rescue responds after family gets UTV stuck on SilverStar trails

The family activated their SOS beacon around 3 p.m. once they realized they could be facing a night alone in the mountains

Dastkar, a new furniture store in Vernon, features handmade, unique furniture carved from wood and inlaid with brass in the Chiniot style. The business located on 43rd Avenue was started in December 2020 but is currently unstaffed due to COVID-19 staffing shortages. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
PHOTOS: Vernon’s hidden handmade furniture store

Owners of Shahi Pakwan Indian restaurant opened the South Asian furniture store in December 2020

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

Most Read