Moscow’s role in Syrian matters has once again come into the spotlight after Vladimir Putin clinched the Russian presidency for another term. Russia’s position vis-a-vis the Syrian crisis has been at the root of the failure to find a solution acceptable to all parties involved in Syrian affairs. The Russian position started where it should have ended: with a veto at the Security Council. This veto caused many to wonder what Russia’s next step will be. Some might now say that Russia has taken a step beyond its veto in providing financial and military support to the regime in Damascus.
Putin was not exactly far removed from Russian-Syrian relations prior to his election, so it is now difficult to predict the “new role” he will play. However, he now holds greater responsibilities in the eyes of the international community, and some see his role in Syria as a continuation of the approach he has employed from the time he first started managing Russian politics following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Putin's experience throughout his first presidential term will inevitably influence his second one. This experience involved working seriously with the United States and the West in general to resolve current international crises and mitigate old ones. Putin cannot now begin his next presidency by closing the door on a crisis — in which Russia is playing a major role — that has captured the attention of the whole world.
The information currently available has led some to surmise that Moscow will begin to re-evaluate its position on the Syrian crisis, and take steps accordingly. Other parties — including the Arabs — agree with this analysis.
The Russian foreign minister will soon meet with the Arab ministerial committee that has concerned itself with the Syrian crisis. In addition, the Russians have also directly contacted leaders from the Gulf, including the Saudi king and the president of the UAE. The Russians have also agreed to allow Kofi Annan (the former Secretary-General of the UN) to send an international envoy to Syria. They seem to be sincere in their support for this option, but not for any other that might lead the Security Council to decide on a military intervention. Russia does not want to allow the UN to turn currently impossible resolutions into warships and Tomahawk missiles over a few days.
However, Moscow is now forced to listen to another point aside from that of Syria: the international, neutral perspective represented by Annan’s envoy. Moscow understands the benefits of this counsel, but more important is that the government in Damascus understand the same thing.
Putin, in his second presidential term, now finds himself offset by Annan and his credentials as a former Secretary-General of the United Nations.