"Russia and Syria are not just allies - they are friends, too. Relations between Moscow and Damascus are multi-faceted, involving bilateral, economic, military, security and cultural dimensions... Syria's security has historically been strengthened by Moscow, and the Russians have on more than one occasion come to the aid of Syria”, said Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.
"To counter extremism and terrorism is also very much a threat to Russian national security… Syria is Russia's historic friend - friends are there for each other. And, in order to retain its influence and power in the Middle East, Russia must ensure the survival of the Syrian state” he added.
Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos, Publisher and Editor of Politics First (a non-partisan publication for the UK Parliament) holds a PhD in Russian history and specializes in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.
FNA talked to Dr. Papadopoulos about Russia’s intention to support Syria in general, and ways in which the Syrian government has been supported by Russians in particular.
Below is the full text of the interview.
Q: How do you assess the historical ties between Russia and Syria in the contemporary history, specially since the Cold War era? What landmark events should be brought up to study the relations between these two countries in its entirety?
A: Russia and Syria are not just allies - they are friends, too. Relations between Moscow and Damascus are multi-faceted, involving bilateral, economic, military, security and cultural dimensions. And the Russian and Syrian peoples have benefited tremendously from those relations, which have been in existence for over half a century. Syria's security has historically been strengthened by Moscow, and the Russians have on more than one occasion come to the aid of Syria; for example, during the June War of 1967, the October War of 1973 and the conflict in Syria today. In return, Syria is Russia's eyes and ears in the Middle East. Many Russians and Syrians regard each other as brothers - a sentiment that has gained even more popularity as a result of how, today, the Syrian and Russian militaries are on the frontline fighting extremism and terrorism, specifically Wahhabism and Salafism.
Q: Syria has been at war with foreign-backed terrorists for around six years now, while militants are losing ground in every front now. Where and at what stages, do you think, Russia’s assistance has brought Syria a step closer to victory?
A: The turning-point in the Syrian conflict was on 30 September 2015 when Russia militarily intervened in the fighting, at the request of the Syrian Government, which is the only legitimate authority in Syria, in accordance with international law. Up until that date, the Syrian military, which reflects the multi-cultural Syrian state in terms of its personnel (contrast this with how the terrorist opposition groups are sectarian, comprised of 99 per cent Sunnis), has been fighting on approximately 300 fronts and against approximately 80 different nationalities of terrorists - not to mention the military and financial support that these terrorists were and are continuing to receive from the US, UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The courage and tenacity demonstrated by Syrian servicemen and servicewomen has been extraordinary, and their achievements will gain a special place in history. History will show that those men and women gave it their all in order to contain and defeat one of the most awful cancers in the history of mankind: Extremism.
The Syrian military had been battling alone, against the odds, for four years, prior to Russian intervention. The Syrian soldier needed help from his Russian counterpart, and, like true brothers do, the Russian soldier came to his aid.
Because of Russian intervention in Syria's fight with Takfirism, the Syrian military will prevail. It is not a matter of if but when victory will come for the Syrian Armed Forces.
Q: Why does Russia see it on itself to stand up for Bashar Al-Assad’s government? What objectives could be perceived for Russia’s present role in Syria?
A: Firstly, Russia came to the aid of a legitimate government and one that is in trouble in its fight with extremism and terrorism. Secondly, on humanitarian grounds, namely to protect the Syrian people from the barbarism that is Wahhabism and Salafism. Thirdly, to counter extremism and terrorism is also very much a threat to Russian national security. Fourthly, Syria is Russia's historic friend - friends are there for each other. And finally, in order to retain its influence and power in the Middle East, Russia must ensure the survival of the Syrian state; no different to how the US would militarily defend its position in Saudi Arabia or Israel, if it was required to do so.
Q: Considering the recent Washington-Moscow confrontational policies over a range of issues, specially the war in Syria, do you see a shift in Russia’s foreign policy towards the United States’ allies in the Middle-East, specifically Israel and Saudi Arabia?
A: No. Israel and Saudi Arabia are staunch allies and friends to the US - and nothing can undo this well-known reality. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is the number one exporter of religious extremism (Wahhabism) and terrorism to the world, which continues to affect Russian security, especially in the North Caucasus. And as for Israel, the Israelis historically pose a deadly threat to Russia's friend and ally Syria, and Israel has been assisting armed groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in their fight with the Syrian army, something that Moscow is well aware of.
For the Kremlin, Syria and Iran are its strategic partners in the Middle East. Damascus and Tehran are to Moscow what Tel Aviv and Riyadh are to Washington.
Q: Is the Syrian crisis pushing the ties between Russia and the US into a state similar to the cold war decades ago? With the new US administration, how likely is it to witness a 21st century version of the cold war?
A: The crisis in Ukraine is what propelled relations between Russia and the US to such a low level. However, the fighting in Syria has made relations between the two superpowers even worse. The state of relations between Moscow and Washington today are comparable to how they were before Detente in the 1970s and during the early 1980s. And with the Trump administration determined to "Make America Great Again" by crushing or curtailing the power of countries which follow independent foreign policies (Russia, Syria, Iran and North Korea, to name but a few), it is extremely difficult to see how Russia-US relations can improve. President Putin cannot and will not (and rightly so) bow down to American diktats, while President Trump is determined to both fulfil his own personal megalomaniac ambitions and pursue America's insatiable lust for ever more wealth and power in the world.