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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

Thursday, July 24


Liliana Modiliani, a well-known Russian stylist, will talk about choosing clothes that fit during her lecture at 7 p.m. at the Pryamoy Efir art club, 13 Viborgskoe Shosse.



Friday, July 25


Discuss Russia’s economic and political prospects for 2014 during a Business Breakfast organized by SPIBA at 9.30 a.m. in the Bank Saint-Petersburg office at 64


Malookhtinsky Prospekt.


Start your weekend with adorable miniature pigs at the Squealing Pig festival at 7 p.m. this evening in the Karl & Friedrich restaurant, 15 Iozhnaya doroga, on Krestovsky Island.



Saturday, July 26


Hundreds of brand-new and retro cars, drag and drift shows, test drives and karting are planned for the Avtobum-2014 festival, which will take place in front of the RIO shopping center at 2 Fuchika Ulitsa.


Participants in today’s SaniDay Summer competition will impress visitors with their hand-made, unusual and hilarious boats, which will race at the Igora Resort near the 54th kilometer on Priozerskoe Shosse.


Metro Family Day will include both serious lectures for adults and master-classes for children, making the event interesting for the whole family. To participate, come to Kirov Park on Yelagin Island.


Photography will be the focus of today’s Photosubbota, which features lectures by famous photographers, meetings with photo schools and studio representatives, and participation in a photography competition. The event starts at noon at Petrokongress, 5 Lodeynopolskaya Ulitsa.


If you like cycling, make sure to visit the Za Velogorod Festival with its retro bike exhibition, market and live music. The second round of the Leningrad Criterium race will also take place during the event at Petrovsky Arsenal in Sestroretsk.



Sunday, July 27


Navy Day will be celebrated with a weapon and military transportation exhibition, self-defense master classes and concerts. The event starts at 1 p.m. in the 300th Anniversary Park of St. Petersburg.



Monday, July 28


Don’t miss a chance to see the latest achievements in robotics during the RoboDom interactive show, exhibiting more than 150 robots. The show will be at BUM center, 22/2 Gzhatskaya Ulitsa, until Aug. 3. The entrance ticket costs 350 rubles ($10).



Tuesday, July 29


A video of a Queen concert from 1986 will be shown today at 8 p.m. in Yaschik, 50/13 Ligovsky Prospekt.



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