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Mr. Putinís Neighborhood

Author: Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies
June 22, 2012
The Daily

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It appears to be time for a redo of President Obama's famed "reset" on Russia.

The president, after all, has little to show for it beyond a treaty reducing long-range nuclear arsenals on both sides and Russian acquiescence in the use of its territory to supply NATO forces in Afghanistan. And those limited achievements spring directly from Russia's self-interest. Russia's long-rage nuke stocks need cutting for financial reasons. As for Afghanistan: Russia doesn't want to see a Taliban victory either, so its interests align with America's.

That is not true in most other parts of the world, and nowhere is the clash clearer than in Syria, where Russia has emerged alongside Iran as the most notable backer of the Assad regime. There are numerous reasons for Russian support for President Bashar Assad. Start with the strategic rationale: Syria is Russia's closest ally in the Middle East. It even hosts a Russian naval base — the only military base that Moscow still has outside the boundaries of the former Soviet Union. Then there is the financial rationale: Syria has long been a big buyer of Russia's weapons (including the helicopter gunships now being used to slaughter rebels). Finally, consider the ideological rationale: Russian President Vladimir Putin is a dictator who rules over an increasingly restive population. He has no desire to see another dictator toppled in the Middle East or anywhere else, lest this send the wrong (from his perspective) message to the Russian people.

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