Even after talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russia stands behind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The U.S. standpoint is that Washington’s meddling in the internal affairs of a state has its background in international law and can be regarded as legitimate. However, information that Al-Qaeda is involved in Syria's civil war broke Sunday and the West started to panic, since its support for rebels cannot be so loudly advocated anymore. Moreover, there is a stream of thought that the crisis in Syria cannot be resolved without Russia’s agreement.
Russia has interests in Syria that are fonder to her than President Assad himself. After Russian interests have been secured, Russia will be ready to end the crisis and lift the dam that is currently saving Mr. Assad from drowning.
Russian interests in Syria can be divided into two categories: economic and military ones.
Firstly, for Russia the uprising in Syria is good for business. Since the beginning of the uprising, Russia’s export of weapons and ammunition reached a billion dollars in 2011 and Russia holds deeds to $4 billion more.
Secondly, the economic ties between the two countries have grown closer in the last few years. Syria’s mismanaged economy is deeply dependent on its Russian friends. Petroleum products, grains, electrical equipment, and other goods have been mainly imported from Russian enterprises. This boosted the mutual exchange of goods by 58% in the last year, creating $2 billion in profits for the Russian side.
Thirdly, the greatest value for the Russians in this relationship is its navy base in Tartous. This is the only Russian base in the Mediterranean and Russians are simply not ready to withdraw their support for Assad’s regime, if it means loosing this base. For them, this is a base of strategic importance and they intend to keep it.
Because of these reasons, at this point Russia is not ready to move forward, together with the U.S., in solving this crisis. However, after the militarist jihadists have taken part in the conflict, it is of crucial importance to the Western powers to try to win over Russia’s support. As the New York Times writes, “demonstrators in several Syrian cities raised banners with slogans like, “No to American intervention, for we are all Jebhat al-Nusra.” It is highly possible that radical islamists get a good position in the conflict and get out of it as the winners. For the West, this price is much higher than ensuring that Russia’s interests are fulfilled after Mr. Assad is gone.
Therefore, if the U.S. and its allies decide to offer Russians the same benefits they enjoyed during the Assad regime, the situation can change dramatically. The weapons will stop coming into Syria. Economic sanctions by the U.N. Security Council could further press the Syrian government in this non-coercive way, defined in Article 41 of the U.N. Charter.
Furthermore, after those actions, the Syrian military will lose its capacity to fight in a matter of time, the weak economy will collapse, and Mr. Assad will have to leave. After that, Europe, including Russia, and the U.S. will have to take care of state-building in Syria and provide it with all the resources needed to transition to democratic society.