Russian foreign policy is merely a shadow of its Soviet past and though the regime of Medvedev and Putin clings to the lost promise of the Soviet Union—Putin, to the dismay of nations like Estonia, Lithuania, Georgia and others, has called its demise the greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century—its foreign policy is no longer anchored in any ideology in particular. So much is certainly not too controversial a statement. The sale of 36 additional YAK-130 jets to Syria is not that big of a deal in military terms, but it is significant nonetheless. The announcement comes on the heels of the Russian aircraft-carrier Admiral Kutzenov making a port call in Syria, lending credibility and international legitimacy to the otherwise isolated Syrian dictator. During the Cold War, Syria was the linchpin of Russian foreign policy in the Middle East; ever since the demise of the Soviet Union Damascus has remained a principal ally of the Kremlin, even though genuine common interests are difficult to determine. In fact, Moscow's major interest in Syria is as a reliable customer of Russian made military hardware; there is no common agenda other than that.
That the Kremlin is willing to veto any (meaningful) resolution on Syria is dispiriting. Though an international intervention is justified under the R2P, the United Nations Security Council would not have to move in that direction right now. For one thing the Syrian opposition is not consolidated enough to really be an alternative. For another, sanctions and embargoes could be useful steps for the moment and might indeed be sufficient to get some concessions from Assad's regime (though I do think that in the end he needs to be removed by force). But with Russia vetoing any action on Syria, the United Security Council is quickly loosing more of its legitimacy. While Syria is on the verge of civil war, even the Arab League has gained more legitimacy in dealing with the crisis than the Security Council. Russia is no longer a superpower and other nations have surpassed it in economic and political weight. But Russia has a unique role in the UNSC that is no longer justified by its political role or economic weight. Can we do anything about it? For the moment, let us realise for a second that Russia's economy is not going to grow that much; that its political system is bankrupt and that no state except Belarus is willing to follow its course or model no matter what. So lets get serious and drop Russia from the BRICS. Its been the odd one out anyway, so when talking about emerging powers, BICS is far more accurate. And making that change might help the Kremlin realise that in order to be regarded as a leading power, it might be helpful to formulate an agenda that other nations might be willing to buy into. You know, as a general principal.
This post, by the way, distracted me from commenting on some Sikhs arguing that the first amendment does not protect jokes about the Sri Darbar Sahib, where the Sikhs host their holy scriptures. I kid you not. Apparently they do not keep a copy of the U.S. constitution there.
UPDATE: For good behaviour and, quite frankly, good measure, I am adding credit, where credit is due. I was subtly reminded today that this idea was also advanced by Carlo Masala. Now, even though we hardly always agree—one might reasonably ask how a realist and a neocon could really ever end up on the same side of an argument—I find myself always impressed with his truly terse arguments. And it is against this background that I suggest you take a look at his publications. As you might have suspected, I am always in the mood for a good spanking of Walt and Mearsheimer, which is why you should read this.