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Syria & U.S.-Russian Relations: Three Things to Know

Speaker: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
September 6, 2013

As U.S. Congress prepares to vote on potential limited military strikes against Syrian government targets for their alleged use of chemical weapons, Russian president Vladimir Putin has come out against U.S. strikes, and recently went as far as to call Secretary of State John Kerry "a liar" for his comments about al-Qaeda's involvement in the Syrian opposition. CFR Senior Fellow Stephen Sestanovich tells three things to know about the deteriorating state of U.S.-Russian relations vis-à-vis Syria.

Same Taste, New Injury: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian leaders have had a tendency to engage in anti-American rhetoric. "This was true even of a pro-American figure like Boris Yeltsin," Sestanovich says. Russian provocation of the United States regarding Syria also has roots in its decades-long relationship with the Syrian regime, which allows Russia to enjoy "access to naval facilities, arm sales, military and intelligence cooperation," Sestanovich adds.

Injecting Personality Into Policy: Russian foreign policy reflects elements of Putin's personality, according to Sestanovich. Putin places a premium on Russian sovereignty and largely "ignore[s] international criticism," Sestanovich says. "For Putin, Assad is right to oppose outside pressure," he says.

No Confrontation: Putin and his generals have no desire to involve Russian military personnel in the Syria conflict. The Russians may go as far as re-supplying the Syrian military, says Sestanovich, but unless the tide of the civil war turns against Assad, their policy will not change. "Yes, he wants Assad to survive; no, he does not intend to go down in flames with him," he says.


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