President Obama is attending G20 summit in St.Petersburg, Russia. Though the tension between the USA and Russia has never been so strong since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the American President still takes his chances to come up with a solution. The problem is that any step he takes toward a compromise in fact benefits his Russian opponent Vladimir Putin. Who is going to win in this war of influence?
The very same thing might be viewed contradictory from different perspectives. Akira Kurosawa perfectly showed it in “Rashamon”, one of his best movies, but current politics demonstrates it even better. While G20 is viewed as a failure to reach a compromise on Syria by supporters of military action against Bashar Al-Assad’s government, it is considered as a victory of influence in Russia.
Why is Russia against military involvement in the Syrian conflict? There are many answers and points of view.
Russia is the biggest arm supplier to the Assad’s regime, accounting for half the Syrian weapons import in 2011, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. While the Russian arm selling market is limited worldwide, Russia does not want to lose Syrian money. Neither does it want to investigate the origins of Syrian chemical weapons.
While nobody yet openly accuses Russia of selling chemical weapons to Syria, such accusations might occur if an investigation takes place.
According to Vil Mirzayanov, a prominent expert on chemical weapons who emigrated from Russia in 1996 and now lives and works in Princeton, in the 1980’s and even in the 1990’s, Russia constantly worked with Syrian government on creation of its chemical weaponry. Russian involvement included not only supplying weapons and accessories, but educating Syrian experts and generals in Russian military schools and teaching them how to run this weaponry. According to Vil Mirzayanov, Syrians were able to produce sarin with substantial help from Russia.
If sale of arms and chemical weaponry is governmental business, Russian public opinion has its own reasons to oppose American strike on Syria, and these reasons go back to the time of the Soviet Union, or even before – to the times of the Russian Empire.
Russia always had ambitions to rule the world. Though Moscow – the third Rome in their eyes – never had a chance to do it during the Empire time, Russian influence on the world politics was essential, especially in Eastern Europe, Middle and Far East and the Balkans. The apogee came to the Soviet time when USSR became a superpower along with the USA. Today the situation has changed, but Russia still considers itself a superpower.
The fact that nobody else thinks the same way irritates the Russian President very much and many Russians with him. He came to power on the wave of the “war on terror.” With the famous words “We will haunt them everywhere. In the airport – let it be the airport. If we found them in a toilet – we will done them in the urinal.” He opened a second war on Chechnya and strangled all separatist movements in Russia rising up the Great Russia ideology.
Russians, who lost almost all confidence during the fall of the Soviet Union step by step, started “rising up from their knees” trying to exercise their influence on the Ukraine, Belorussia, Central Asia, and Georgia. With economic growth secured by constantly raising oil prices, Russia once more became a main player on the international scene, and the more it feels stronger, the less it likes the current world power distribution.
“One polar world” with strong dominance of the USA – this is what Russia tries to oppose, making it its national pride by contradicting everything America proposes. Weaken your rival and show your own dominance, that is the idea of Russia’s behavior over the last years. In order to succeed, it needs to pick on the rival as much as possible, making even civilized attempts to talk look like a weakness.
Impeding nuclear disarmament agreement, giving temporary asylum to Snowden, opposing American strikes on Syria, even making fun of Obama’s controversial peace Nobel Prize – everything is good if it makes the other side look ridiculous. And even if it does not change the way history is going, it will still give Putin his domestic credits for challenging the biggest superpower in the world and standing up for justice in the Middle East, at least this is how most Russians consider it. President Putin cannot win on the international field, but even though he will lose Syria to Obama, he is still a winner in his country playing on the strings of Russian patriotism. Unfortunately, it does not matter to him if he isolates Russia and takes it back to the Soviet’s past.
By Alsu Salakhutdinov