Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with (clockwise, starting in top left.) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British Prime Minister David Cameron, next Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. REUTERS/FILES
A string of leaders and senior emissaries, seeking to prevent further escalation of the Syria crisis, has headed to Moscow recently to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. First, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, then British Prime Minister David Cameron, next Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now, most recently, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon These leaders see Russia as the key to resolving the Syria quandary.
But to get Russia to cooperate on any stabilization plan, the United States and its allies will have to take into account Russia’s significant interests in the Mediterranean region.
Moscow’s refusal thus far to act on Syria seems puzzling. Russia has let other of its Middle East client regimes fall without much action on its part in the past. Why is Syria different to Moscow than those other Russian allies in the Middle East? Because, in Russia’s view, the outcome in Syria affects Moscow’s core strategic interests – including its global naval strategy and energy exports.
To understand Moscow’s policy toward Syria, it is important to understand that Russia sees Syria as part of its Mediterranean policy and not a part of the Middle East. The Arab Middle East has been a relatively low priority in Russia’s foreign policy. The Mediterranean, however, and especially the Eastern Mediterranean region, is a policy priority for Moscow.