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Why The Crisis in Ukraine Will Determine What Happens in Syria

Published: April 12, 2014 (Issue # 1805)


Twice in the last six months, Russia has managed to divert attention from what had previously been the central focus of international relations: the conflict in Syria. The first time was in September, when Russia averted a U.S. military strike against Syrian forces by proposing that Syrian President Bashar Assad instead eliminate all of his country's chemical weapons. That effectively shifted the world's attention from the country's ongoing and bloody civil war to the goal of "depriving Damascus of its chemical weapons arsenal." It also bought Assad time to gather strength, receive additional fighters and weapons from Hezbollah and launch a large-scale offensive against insurgents across the country. The second diversion occurred when Russia's actions in Ukraine altered the global security picture and pushed the Syrian conflict into the background.

Now, global players are most concerned about the unexpected appearance of a "European front" in Ukraine, where NATO and Russian interests come into conflict and their military forces stand at only a short remove from each other. That situation is of far greater importance for the world than what is happening in distant Syria.

Although these conflicts might appear unrelated at first glance, they have emerged as a result of several common factors. These include the desire of Russian leaders to counteract the Tahrir Square and Maidan-style uprisings that have toppled legitimately elected leaders and to assert a "new role for Russia that the West cannot ignore," their geopolitical interest in maintaining Russia's presence at its Black Sea port in Sevastopol and its Mediterranean Sea port in Tartus, Syria, and the desire to mobilize and consolidate President Vladimir Putin's electorate at home. Putin's foreign policy "success" in fending off a U.S. bombing of Syria might have won him a dozen or so popularity points with voters, but the annexation of Crimea unleashed a flood of patriotic fervor that, with the help of state-controlled media, boosted his ratings to record highs and effectively drowned out all voices of protest.

Two others factors connected with Russia's stance on Syria have also played an important role in its approach to Ukraine. First, Moscow positioned itself as a "peacekeeper" in Syria, helping the "legitimate regime fight Islamist terrorists" — a role for which Putin was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Kremlin then expanded on that idea by claiming a desire to "save the Russian-speaking citizens of Crimea" — and possibly those in southern and eastern Ukraine as well — from the "pro-fascist forces that illegally seized power in Kiev." Of course, the means Moscow employed in Ukraine differed somewhat from those it used in Syria.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Oct. 22


English teachers can expect to receive a few useful pointers today from Evgeny Kalashnikov, the British Council regional teacher, during the EFL Seminar this afternoon hosted by the British Book Center. The topic of today’s seminar is “Grammar Practice.”


Young Petersburgers will get the chance to jumpstart their careers at “Professional Growth,” a job fair and forum featuring more than 40 major Russian and international companies vying for potential candidates for future positions. The forum not only is a chance to network but also to learn more about the modern business world and to understand what it takes to get the job you want.



Thursday, Oct. 23


AmCham’s Public Relations Committee meeting is scheduled to meet this morning at 9 a.m. in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center.


Sportsmen get their chance to stock up on all kinds of gear at the Hunting and Fishing 2014 exhibition starting today at Lenexpo. Everything from rods and reels to boats, motorcycles and equipment for underwater hunting will be on sale so that any avid outdoorsman can always be prepared.



Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBA’s ongoing “Breakfast with the Director” series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at “Sounds of the Universe,” a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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