The Russian veto: saying “no” is not a policy

Why did they do it? This is the question that many in the Middle East are asking about Russia’s veto of a United Nations’ Security Council resolution on Syria.

In itself, the veto is neither here nor there. The uprising in Syria is unlikely to end because of it. Even if President Bashar al-Assad manages to hang on a bit longer, his crippled regime would not be much good to Russia or anyone else.

Nor is Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s hastily arranged visit to Damascus a sign that Moscow is able to save Assad’s doomed regime. In fact, Moscow has been briefing journalists with the claim that Lavrov went to Damascus to persuade Assad to step aside. If Assad goes because Russia asked him to do, Lavrov and his boss would not feel excluded as they did over other events in the “Arab Spring”.
Thus, we should not interpret Russia’s move as a vote of confidence in Assad. The move may have other reasons.

In tactical terms, the veto could enable Vladimir Putin, seeking to return as president, mobilise his support base on the eve of an increasingly difficult election.

Putin is caught in a pincer one arm of which consists of the re-energised Communist Party while Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s chauvinist outfit represents the other.

The two hate each other but are united by anti-West sentiments. They see the Syrian revolt, indeed the “Arab Spring”, as an extension of the West’s sphere of influence. By taking an anti-West s…

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