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Russian democracy in Syria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Russia’s stance towards the Syrian revolution, and its attempts to protect the Bashar al-Assad regime by all means possible, regardless of the potential cost and international pressure, is a matter – as expressed by many – that has exceeded diplomatic customs and reached unprecedented levels of impudence. Despite the irrefutable evidence of the crimes that al-Assad and his regime are committing, the Russian stance remains one of unrelenting support. The Syrian regime has been successful in “selling” the idea that Syria is a state of peaceful factions and that it is the sole secular regime in the Arab region. The al-Assad regime has promoted the image that it is facing a fierce armed terrorist campaign undertaken by radical Salafi groups seeking to repress minorities, deny their rights, and put an end to the state of peaceful coexistence between all the factions of one nation. Here al-Assad has been careful to mention the Christian factions, the majority of which adhere to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Bashar al-Assad’s promotion of the Salafi fundamentalist scarecrow is an attempt to evoke a certain Russian sentiment. Vladimir Putin – who himself came from the KGB, one of the world’s strongest intelligence apparatuses during the era of the Soviet Union – and other Russian intelligence and military leaders still remember the humiliating loss they encountered in Afghanistan, at the hands of radical “jihadists” and Salafis. Al-Assad’s campaign has been strengthened by the stance of Kirill I, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church itself, who stated clearly that his church is strongly opposed to foreign intervention in Syrian affairs and attempts to change the regime there, in an endeavor to “protect” the 10 percent of Syria’s population that belong to the Christian minority.

Of course, such a statement goes in perfect harmony with the political desire of the Kremlin’s leadership, its apparatuses and political administration. The Kremlin is using the church’s stance as a means of soft power that can influence international public opinion and help Russia gain the world’s understanding of its stance towards Syria. It is crucially important here to recall the perfect coordination between Putin’s electoral team during the recent presidential elections in Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church that supported him strongly in return for the promises and guarantees he offered, whereby the government would meet all the developmental needs of the places of worship and religious schools affiliated to the church.

There is an undeniable feeling that the Russia’s discourse is motived by revenge for the defeat its troops encountered in Afghanistan, and also Russia’s concern about the “fundamentalist danger” threatening the stability of the regime in Syria. Russia tends to ignore the talk about the criminal violations the Syrian regime is committing against its own people, and holds both the regime and the people as jointly responsible. The Russian stance was strengthened by the visit which Patriarch Kirill I paid to Damascus recently, and the multitude of Christian citizens who were seen crowding round him expressing their “fear” and “panic”. They were worried that the regime would change and a radical extremist group would seize control of the country, denying the Christians their rights and threatening their lives and freedoms. In fact, it soon became clear that this scene was prepared by the Syrian media machine, which is highly experienced in this sort of propaganda.

Russia, by adopting such a stance, is provoking a sectarian war by continuing to champion one team against another, believing that the regime is right and everyone else is wrong. If Russia can consider a ruling system that represents only 10 percent of the population as democratic, then would it allow its own territory to be ruled by one of Russia’s minorities, and still consider this to be democratic as well?