Russia Keeps Backing Losers in the Arab Spring

Posted September 21st, 2011 at 6:31 pm (UTC+0)

Russia backed Tunisia’s president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, until he fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, ending 23 years in power.

Syrian protesters in Jordan step on a Russian flag during a protest against Russia's support for the Syrian regime, in front of the Russian embassy in Amman on September 17, 2011. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

In early February, as demonstrators massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, President Dmitry Medvedev telephoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a show of support. On Feb. 11, President Mubarak resigned, ending 30 years in power.
Through June, July and August, Russian diplomats and commentators bitterly sniped at the NATO bombing campaign in Libya. Finally, on the eve of a Libya conference in Paris on Sept. 1, Russia recognized the rebel coalition, becoming the 75th country in the world to do so.
Even today, Duma members continue to publicly bemoan the overthrow of Moamar Gadhafi after 42 years in power.
One would think that after backing losers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Russia’s Foreign Ministry would have a rethink. In baseball, three strikes, and you are out.

But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is still at bat.
And now he faces the fourth major uprising of the Arab Spring — Syria.
Governments as diverse as those of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Britain and the United States are all saying, to varying degrees, that the 41-year rule of the al-Assad family should come to an end.
Over the last six months, according to a United Nations’ tally, President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces have shot and killed 2,700 protesters, including at least 100 children. Despite this slow motion, nationwide bloodbath, protests show no sign of subsiding.
But when confronted about Syria, Russia’s foreign minister said on Monday that he opposes a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime. Instead, he called for dialogue between President Assad and the opposition.
No one knows how Syria will play out in coming months.
But one thing is clear: Russia will emerge as a much reduced player in the Arab world. Until this year, Russia’s has had disproportionate influence in the Arab world, largely due to the momentum of old Soviet relationships and arms deals.
Now, Russia’s Arab friends are in hiding, in exile or on trial. After clinging to aging autocrats, Moscow now faces a steep, uphill battle to rebuild influence among new elites. The new powers in Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli clearly recall which side the Kremlin took during the revolution.

In Libya, a woman displays handmade messages to welcome French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron to Benghazi on Sept. 15. In the forefront of the military and diplomatic fight against Moammar Gadhafi, the two men were the first foreign leaders to visit Libya after the rebels took power. Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

Moscow’s reactionary foreign policy reflects a deep, widespread conservatism in Russia today. As Russia’s population ages and shrinks, many people are skeptical of the youth-led revolts of the Arab world.
In American terms, the 2011 Kremlin is like the 1968 White House: Richard Nixon surrounded by a conservative staff of World War II veterans appalled and mystified by the youth revolts going on around the world.
After a disastrous 20th century, many Russians still accept the conservative offer made in 2000 by then-candidate Vladimir Putin – peace and quiet and reasonable economic growth.
For many Russians today, the word “revolution” provokes cynicism at best — hostility at worst.
On a visit to the Kremlin, I once asked Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to then Prime Minister Putin, why Moscow’s riot police devoted so much energy to beating up and arresting “NatBols” – the National Bolshevists who showed up at demonstrations waving revolutionary red and black flags, often tied to sturdy sticks.
Peskov replied: “Hmmm, nationalists and Bolsheviks, black and red. Russia has had very unhappy experiences with both.”

24 hours after Russia Watch was posted, Russiyskaya Gazeta, a state-owned newspaper, published this interview by Russian Foreign Minister, outlining Moscow’s view on the Arab Spring:


9/22/2011 11:16:34 AM MSK

Middle East, North Africa undergo cardinal transformations – Lavrov

MOSCOW. Sept 22 (Interfax) – ‘The Arab spring’ has changed the Middle East and North Africa, which entered a period of transformations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview posted by the Wednesday issue of the newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

“In light of the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and later in other countries the Middle East and North Africa region has since early 2011 been undergoing a cardinal transformation. What’s happening is in fact a change of regimes and practices that took shape back at the time of gaining independence by the peoples of those countries, the desire of popular masses for greater democracy, higher living standards and welfare, and unhindered access to universal human rights,” the minister said.

“In our estimation, these processes won’t be easy and the development of events isn’t going to be straightforward, of which there is already ample evidence. It is undoubted that the changes will have far-reaching consequences, resulting in an entirely different countenance of the region.

We are sympathetic to the aspirations of Arab peoples and their desire to live better and we believe that they themselves can and should determine their own destiny.

“So we are fundamentally opposed to interference in internal affairs, the imposition from the outside of ready-made development precepts and scenarios. It is important that the concepts of democratic reforms should be generated by the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa themselves with due respect for their civilizational traditions from outside players.

“Our fundamental interest is to see the Middle Eastern states stable, prosperous and developing along a democratic path. In the present circumstances the main task of the international community should be to help reforms in the Middle East, the elimination of threats emanating from the region to international stability and security, and the settlement of longstanding conflicts.

“Russia, given its close historical ties with the region, is ready for such work. We will continue to build our relations with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa based on mutual respect and reciprocally advantageous cooperation. These relations rest on a solid foundation, underpinned by decades of mutual friendly feelings of the peoples, rather than a momentary conjuncture,” he said.

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

13 responses to “Russia Keeps Backing Losers in the Arab Spring”

  1. Steve says:

    Unfortunately for the good people of Russia, their government is immensely corrupt and always sides with dictators & thugs because that is simply what the Russian government is comprised of, starting with their President, all their Ministers & their diplomats. MOst of them have amassed immense amounts of wealth due to the money schemes they have instated and shady underworld people they contract with.

  2. Juli says:

    How can you say such words about the country you have never visited.? It’s wrong! VOA everyday publish some provocative facts, but only negligible part of this has at least some meaning. Don’t you feel how stupid it sounds? Ooh, I’m sorry.
    Open your eyes!

  3. James Brooke jbrooke says:

    I don’t know about Steve, but I first worked in Russia in 1991, in the twilight weeks of the USSR. This followed by numerous reporting visits through September 2006, when I moved to Moscow permanently. That makes for 20 years of coming and going, including 5 years of uninterrupted residence. Every weekday morning, I look out of my Moscow office window and gaze directly across the Kutuzovsky Prospect traffic james and see Prime Minister Putin’s residence in the White House.
    So I pass what the IRS (American tax authorities) call “the physical presence test.”
    Best Regards,
    Jim Brooke

  4. poster says:

    Джеймс, а как на счет последовательности в своих действиях?

    США и ЕС дружат с Каддафи (совсем недавно это еще было), потом вторгаются с войной. Аналогично было с Афганистаном и многими другими странами.
    Как говорится старый друг лучше новых двух, вы всех друзей предали, а новых то и нет. Прибалтика, Польша, Грузия это ведь не друзья, это Моськи которые могут только тяфкать на слона (не более).
    Еще пару лет и весь мир поймет, что лучше проверенные друзья, чем предатели.

    Друг познается в беде!!!!
    У США друзей нет, кто поможет в беде?

  5. Элла says:

    Poster,А как насчёт Прибалтики, Польши и Грузии, которые знают, почём российская дружба и многолетние связи? Которые можно разрушить в один момент, если бывший вассал не хочет быть больше вассалом? Да и что с них возьмёшь, если они так малы и слабы, что не могут покупать российское вооружение? Просто не нужно делать хорошую мину при плохой игре: каждый ищет себе союзников там, где может. И это правило при существующем положении вещей. Независимо от личных симпатий. Не думаю, что российским лидерам доставляли удовольствие лобзания с Арафатом. Помню, что я прониклась уважением к Путину, когда он при встрече с Арафатом не позволил ему приблизиться для поцелуя.
    А насчёт настоящих друзей: это друзья по интересам, ничего личного. Если есть газовые и нефтяные трубы, то друзей набегает…

  6. Элла says:

    Кстати, Poster, на верхнем снимке – это ваши бывшие друзья. Ведь не хотите же Вы сказать, что дружите только с диктаторами. а не с народами?

  7. poster says:

    Элла, на счет флага, я лично не вижу на фото Российского флага, но вижу Сербский. А комментарий под любое фото можно написать вымышленный не отвечающий действительности. Журналистам нужна сенсация и только.

    P.S. Немецкое хулиганье жгут Французские флаги, французское немецкие, а ведь страны и ЕС вместе и в нато. что-то я не слышал чтоб США разорвали дип отношения с Англией и напали на нее, как это было сделано в Афгане, Ираке и Ливии.

  8. poster says:

    Элла, на последнем фото вообще смешно, Ливийские женщины приветствуют президента Франции держа в руках флаги Югославии. Ни это ли показывает абсурд того, что журналистам все равно какая фотография, главное статья и красивый комментарий под фотографией

  9. Элла says:

    Какие флаги, не важно. На руках написаны слова благодарности европейским лидерам.
    А насчёт того, кто на кого нападает – все хороши. Если есть сила, никто особо не церемонится. И не надо из одних делать ангелов, а из вторых – сущих дьяволов. Все страны действуют, исходя из своих собственных интересов, а высокие идеалы только иногда прикрывают эти интересы. Особенно это касается мировых держав.

  10. Joseph Cotton says:

    Funny! the strongest supporter of Mobarak was the USA and its allies Saudi Arabia until the last minute!

    The difference between the USA and Russia is that the USA turns its hat immediately against its allies while Russia is more cautious.
    On the long run, it is clear that the distrust toward the USA is growing, even Saudi Arabia is distancing itself from the USA and will not forgive the USA of dumping Mobarak in a few days!

    Contrary to you, I think Russia influence is growing in the middlle east, starting with Iran, Turkey and soon mot arb countries liberated from the USA negative influence tainted with zionism.

  11. Pyotr says:

    Russia is a dinosaur. One of many. The now going dictatorships are among them. Russia is tending to stick to its kind – authoritarian regimes where people have a role of servants of their rulers. That’s why Russian PM and FM are always ready to cover some dictator’s ass. The fate of Russia will be the same if it wouldn’t evolve onto the next step. For the country and the people it means to learn how to respect the personal freedoms and rights of citizens, to establish the real democracy at last, and regular change of political leadership. Sadly, instead of one Brejhnev we are going to have two soon. No difference instead of maybe that they will have a constant partners for kissing, the defunct Lyonya always missed one.

  12. Marco says:

    For this article to make sense one has to be aware that the United States supported these rulers even more, very much more, in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

    There is certainly widespread corruption in Russia whereas in the West it is confined to the “higher orders”. Banksters can play ducks and drakes with people’s savings and the losses are passed on to the people’s children and grandchildren (The “people’s representatives” have a phobia of not being re-elected in the next election and their personal agenda takes precedence over a country’s requirements).

    The last thing Russians should do is to imitate the West where companies are encouraged to shed 300 years of industrialization and transfer to Third World countries, where the “people’s representatives” allow millions of unneeded and unwanted African and Muslim unskilled immigrants not only to settle in their countries but to raid the countries’ welfare systems, where the highest incomes are not bestowed on scientists, medical researchers etc but to, often criminal, illiterate sportsmen and their “coaches”, where the decades-long efforts of the middle classes to better themselves are nullified by falling house-values, savings and the threats of reduced pensions.

    But above everything else Russians have to ensure that a notional “freedom of the press” does not hide control of people’s minds by a small, often alien, clique of people and that control of the country’s economy and wealth does not lie in the hands of a similar group of people. This was going to happen in Russia 12 years ago.

    In spite of the Neanderthal and PC elements in our media, we Europeans, by and large think of Russians as fellow Europeans with an amazing range of resources. We understand that to govern such a huge country requires elements of control not required, for example, in Britain , which could easily fit in physically in the Moscow Region. We also understand that Russians are blissfully ignorant of Western fashionable concepts created by the media-owners such as Political Correctness and Multi-Culturalism. PC and multy-kulty are now dying out in the West but the great harm they created is still with us. We bow to the Russians and other Eastern Europeans (like Obama did in front of the Saudi ruler) for never having adopted them.

    In summary Russians should govern themselves as they think fit. It is not for us in the West to criticize them, because they know best and God knows, we have enough problems (often self-inflicted eg immigration) of our own.



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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