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Why realigning Ukraine with the West may be good/bad for Syria

28 February 2014 14:22 (UTC+04:00)
Why realigning Ukraine with the West may be good/bad for Syria

By Claude Salhani

Senior editor of the English service of Trend Agency

The genesis of the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria are similar; people fed up with their leadership take to the streets in protest. But this is where all similarities cease. In Ukraine, while violent clashes erupted between anti-government demonstrators and security forces, the violence was nowhere near that which prevails in the Syrian conflict.

Luckily, in Ukraine, no chemical weapons were used, and the demonstrators were not bombarded from the air by warplanes and attack helicopters. In Ukraine the president fled the country after a few short weeks of violence and protests. Whereas in Syria President Bashar Assad continues to hold on to power after more then 150,000 Syrians are dead, possibly twice as many wounded, several millions turned into refugees in a civil war that has lasted three years and has simply devastated the country. And still in Damascus the president shows no intention of stepping down. Rather, the recent events in Ukraine may very well solidify President Assad's position and give him even greater support from Russia.

In nearly every aspect Syria and Ukraine are worlds apart except for the involvement of Russia in both instances. Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Russians in general regard Ukraine as a part of historic Russia, and Kiev, the capital of Ukraine is considered the mother of all Russian cities. As it stands, the people of Ukraine are divided over the country's alliances. Those in the western part of the country favor an alignment with the European Union, while those living closer to Russia are waving the Slavic flag, saying the country should remain close to Moscow.

For the Russians, maintaining a presence in Ukraine is vital, especially in the south where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is headquartered in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
Realizing that he may have lost Ukraine to Western influence and that fighting for it now would be futile and would place Moscow at a greater risk of losing whatever influence the Kremlin may still retain over this former Soviet republic, President Putin may well decide to play it safe and negotiate a guarantee in the Crimea for the Russian Black Sea fleet to maintain its presence in Sevastopol. And even if the check is written in Russian rubles, it is still a lot of money, money that Ukraine badly needs.

The "shifting" of Ukraine towards the West would have great repercussions on a multitude of areas. First, it would mean a great loss of face by President Putin at having had such a pristine territory snatched away from Russia. And all this comes on the heels of "losing" Georgia to Europe and to NATO. Not to mention Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and others.

"For Russia to let go of Ukraine is almost akin to the United States losing Texas," said one observer. The analogy may be slightly over-stressed, as Ukraine is today an independent country and not part of Russia, but the two countries share common history, common culture, and common geography, as during the 60-plus years of communist rule, as part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was an integral part of the USSR.

Ukraine was traditionally the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, where much of the grain used to bake bread and to distill vodka - two vital ingredients of the average Russian diet - came from Ukraine.

But with the chapter on Ukraine closing on a sour note for the Russians, it will very likely push the Russian president to act firmly in the other former Soviet sphere of influence, Syria, where the once close ally of the Soviet Union, the Baath party of the Assad clan are fighting for their very survival.

With the Olympics now over, President Putin can get back to the issues of running the Russian Federation. If the Russian president has made an executive decision not to confront the West over Ukraine, then there are very good chances he will take a tougher stance over Syria. This can be good/bad news for Syria, depending on which side of the fence you stand. If you are on the side of the government and President Assad, it is obviously great news. If you side with the opposition, then of course the news is not encouraging. Yet regardless where your sympathies lie, the victim remains the people of Syria.

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