Sequels and remakes are rarely as good as the original. Such is the case with Russia’s decision to block a UN Security Council resolution on Syria yesterday. The fairly mild resolution hinted at sanctions if Bashar Assad’s regime continues to slaughter Syrian protesters.
Konstantin Kosachyov, Russia’s top foreign affairs parliamentarian, explained to Businessweek: “Russia has the feeling that a number of Western nations are ready to use outside pressure, including military force, to change the political system in certain countries.” So Russia is asserting itself to protect a bloodthirsty Baathist ally. Where have we seen this before?
While Putin could tolerate U.S. troops in Afghanistan fighting a mutual enemy, an American occupation of Iraq would not only destabilize the region and further enhance Washington’s hegemony in the world at Moscow’s expense, it would also jeopardize enormous Russian economic interest, particularly in the oil industry. Russian business leaders had been pressing Putin to stop Bush, but every effort to head things off through diplomacy at the United Nations or on the telephone had gotten him nowhere. So now Putin was enlisting Primakov, his onetime political rival, for a surprise last-ditch effort to prevent war.
That description is from Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s Kremlin Rising, and it captures Vladimir Putin’s dilemma well. He didn’t want to oppose the U.S., especially so soon after 9/11. But his leadership model was that of CEO of Russia, Inc. and Russia’s economic interests were paramount. His idea was to dispatch Primakov to Baghdad to encourage Saddam Hussein to resign. When that failed, he was back in a corner. Luckily, Europe was there to bail him out. As Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Karaganov told Baker and Glasser:
“He started off closer to the Chinese position–no, but a quiet no. But then he was really wooed by his European friends. It was unbelievable. He started to repeat things we hadn’t said in two or three years, about a multipolar world and all that. The position was, is, and will be we don’t want to confront the United States over this. But we were dragged into it by the Europeans.”
In what became known as the non-nein-nyet alliance, France and Germany had successfully persuaded Putin to vocally oppose the United States. But one difference this time around is that France, no longer run by Jacques Chirac, won’t stand idly by as thousands are murdered just to make a quick buck. So Putin is alone–but not really. China also blocked the resolution, a superfluous move that is probably not a coincidence–as if their ambassadors accidentally wore the same outfit to the party.
Putin’s move, to join China in blocking the resolution, coupled with his proposal this week to create a “Eurasian union” with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, sends a pretty clear message. Putin’s belief in a multipolar world is stronger than ever. It just doesn’t include the West.