Having experience in Syria, often the question is asked about Russia’s opposition to the USA over Syria. As Orthodox Christians we feel no choice but to oppose the USA on this issue based on firsthand knowledge. But that comes with the responsibility to point out why…as if the lack of vital interests for the USA shouldn’t be reason enough. So here goes.
Russia is a sovereign nation and there is no justification for Americans to expect her to roll over and bow down every time Washington sneezes. You may be surprised to learn that Russia has very good reasons to be concerned about who takes over after Assad. First is the increase in Islamic radicalization of Russian republics in the Caucasus mountain regions, for example. The pattern is for young radicals to cross international boundaries easily to fight for allied causes. Boston, anyone?
Perhaps you remember how Chechen fighters so freely entered the battles against Georgia in 2008. It may have seemed odd at first to have Chechen pickup trucks outfitted with machine gun platforms alongside Russian tanks and troop carriers given that the two are mortal enemies.
To the untrained eye it may have been a surprise that Chechen fighters came out of the woodwork to fight alongside their traditional ethnic enemy. However the Chechen fighters came because the two Georgian breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, are primarily Muslim.
Georgia adopted Christianity in the 300s, not long after Armenia became the first Christian country in the world in 301, and neither of these countries in the Caucasus were conquered by Muslim kingdoms as happened to so many neighboring lands. Many Muslims worldwide see Christian Georgia and especially Christian Russia as prime targets for conquering in the name of Islam.
Russia is on the front lines of the war against Islamic radicalization and the fall of moderate/secular Syria in Russia’s back yard would be significant. Thus as the Americans arm the Syrian rebels, and in effect converts the American military into “the Air Force for Al-Qaeda,” Mr. Putin feels that he is justified in opposing America’s reckless lurch back into the arms of Al-Qaeda and their drive to create a new Islamic caliphate.
In the broad overview however, President Putin understands that he represents a primarily Christian Orthodox country with a significant Muslim minority and it is the destabilization of Syria, and the radicals who would most likely step into the vacuum, that concerns Russia first. Syria is a lot closer to Russia geographically than it is to the USA and the fallout with a radical victory is going to eventually threaten Russia long before it threatens the USA.
A second concern to Russia is the concept of Moscow as the “Third Rome” of Christianity. While the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople still retains his ‘see’ as a position of honour, in practicality over half of all Orthodox Christians in the world fall under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarch. Reviving a practice that was shelved during the Soviet period, the Russian Church has reclaimed the idea of Moscow as the “Third Rome” of Christianity and Mr. Putin takes seriously the responsibility for Christian minorities in Muslim lands.
What about chemical weapons? First, so far there is proof that they were used but not by whom. Washington desperately wants to believe it was the Syrian government so that we can begin a new conflict, but would the Syrian government be so careless as to use them on the very day before UN inspectors were scheduled to arrive? This smells to us like rebels are to blame, perhaps coordinated with Washington given the timing.
Unfortunately many around the world believe that the same Washington that would lie about WMD in Iraq would also lie about them in Syria. We’re sorry for those who may be offended by truth.