Alexey Bogolyubov, After the Battle of Athos (Wiki)
Western leaders, the media and experts state the obvious: the Kremlin is trying to save Assad. Of course, yes, but principal points remain outside of the focus of their attention.
It is not only about Syria. It’s about two polar ideologies, two worldviews incompatible with each other.
At one extreme, we see the time-honored tradition based on the primacy of national interests and perceptions of themselves as Empire. At the other extreme, there is a schizophrenic set of amateurism, idealism, Neo-Marxism ideology, quasi-religious utopias of universal triumph of democracy “for all, here and now”, violently distorted conceptions of human rights and civil liberties.
The first outlook generates calculating and cynical, but predictable policies. The second one paves the road to hell.
Which geopolitical aims are pursued by Moscow in Syria?
Russia has only two allies in the Middle East - Iran and Syria. Kremlin came to the conclusion that without the direct intervention of the Russians Assad’ regime would be doomed, because "Hezbollah" and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps would not withstand a long time under the onslaught of the Islamists. The fall of Assad’s regime would jeopardize Iranian regime too. Lebanon together with "Hezbollah" would not survive, and Shiite government in Iraq would be threatened by "jihadists". Moscow in such case would lose its influence in the Middle East completely – such situation is unacceptable for the Kremlin.
Obama may cherish illusions that Iran's Ayatollahs will become US allies as long as he wants, but in Tehran they even don’t try to conceal their contempt for him. Mullahs have friends already, and they sit not in Washington, but in Moscow. Both sides coordinate every step. Commander of the Quds Force general Qasem Soleimani visited Moscow twice - in August and in middle of September - where he met with Putin and the Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu. On behalf of the Russians, continuous contacts between Tehran and Moscow are maintained by the Russian President's Special Representative in the Middle East and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.
The second key point is related to Islamist threat. Putin's calls to destroy ISIS are not just an empty rhetoric. The defeat of Assad would be the triumph of "jihadists", and the flame of "Green revolution" under the banner of the Prophet would inevitably spread to Muslim regions of Russia - the Caucasus, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. It can inflame the “soft underbelly” of Russia too – secular Muslim republics of Central Asia. On September 15-17, presidents of five countries of The Collective Security Treaty Organization - Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan - held a summit on strategic security issues in Dushanbe. Dushanbe - the capital of Tajikistan - was chosen for a reason: it is an outpost of Russia on the border with Afghanistan. Besides "Taliban", it is intruded now by ISIS agents as well, and Moscow is aware of this danger. Putin assured the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, that Russia will support him in any case, but it is impossible to stop ISIS remaining entirely on the defensive, and Putin prefers an offensive campaign. Unlike the Europeans, Russia doesn’t accept returning "jihadists", who went to fight for the Caliphate - Russians prefer destroying them in Syria. One of the main aims of Russians in Syria will be Chechen militants, penetrating into Syria via Turkey. Russia intends to hunt them, and modern attack helicopters Mi-28NE called “Night Hunter” have already arrived to Lattakia.
The third point – starting from the 18th century the Russian Empire, and after it the Soviet Union, sought to increase its presence in the "South Seas" - the Mediterranean. It would turn Russia into a leading player of the world politics, would let it go beyond the Eurasian steppes and dictate own terms to the West. Over a number of years Putin has been counting on the development of the Russian Navy, which has become a strong force. Russia's principle goal is preserving Syrian Lattakia - its main base in the Mediterranean, and creating new bases. Obama's mediocre policy facilitates the rapprochement between Kremlin and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and today the two countries are negotiating the construction of a naval base in Egypt. The Eastern Mediterranean becomes Russian – the aim that was unachievable in the face of such rivals as Palmerston, Disraeli, Churchill, Truman and Reagan, became ridiculously easy with Obama.
The fourth point - Russia wants to show to the whole world: it is a power that under no circumstances abandons its friends and allies to their fate. Putin didn’t betray Assad in the hour of need, and thus made it clear (for West especially) that “all roads lead to Rome”, i.e., to Moscow. It was a useful lesson – now all countries in the region apply for a mediation not to Washington, Paris or London, but to the Kremlin. They manipulate Obama cynically getting American weapons and technology from him, but it is Russia that they consider the power capable of influencing the events.
Arabic Sheikhs – the minister of foreign affairs of UAE Abdullah Sultan Al Nahyan, Saudy ministers of defense and foreign affairs Salman Al Saud and Adel al-Dzhubeyra –visited Moscow already, and now it is Benjamin Netanyahu’s turn.
Russia is not an ally of Israel, but for Netanyahu it is much easier to come to an understanding with Putin than with Obama, and the involvement of the Kremlin can prevent the worst-case scenario, such as the supply of S-300 and upgraded weapons "to Hezbollah." It is curious to note, in numerous interviews to Russian media during a previous visit to Moscow Netanyahu emphasized excellent mutual understanding with Putin.
As far as I know, Moscow planned to offer a deal to Netanyahu: the participation of "Gazprom" in Leviathan gas field development on the northern border of Israel in exchange for curbing Iran and “Hezbollah”. Blackmail? Yes, to a certain degree, but at least it is much more explainable than the demands to return to “Auschwitz borders”** immediately.
Point number five. Russia assumes the mission of the protector of Christian minorities in the Middle East, in the same way that it protected the Eastern Orthodoxy in the 19th century, and Great Britain, represented by Lord Shaftesbury***, protected Jews in Holy Land.
From 2012, this role is played by Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society headed by Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and the Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin.
And eventually, all of these efforts of Moscow are based on the deep, uncompromising belief to Russia’s rightness and its divine mission; and not without a reason nowadays they emphasize the continuity from Bysantium in Russia.
What does the West set against Russia? It betrays its allies by encouraging the worst enemies. This is done senselessly, mediocrely, harmfully to own strategical interests. The West betrayed Gaddafi, who successfully collaborated with Europeans and held back Islamic fundamentalism and hordes of migrants from Africa. It betrayed Hosni Mubarak, and then tried to push el-Sisi into a corner, hindering his war with terror – in the name of "Muslim brothers" that hate the West. It betrayed the former Yemeni President Abdullah Salah, who helped US in the fight against "al-Qaeda". It betrayed Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies in the name of the disastrous deal with Iran, which dreams to destroy US and doesn’t conceal it. It betrays – dirtily, cowardly, hypocritically - Israel, it’s last stronghold in the Middle East: in the name of the mythical "Palestinian people" that never existed. This was the invention of KGB and the Arab League that turned out to be the "sacred cow" of postmodern culture. It betrays friendly Kurds - in the name of "good relations" with the psychopath Erdogan, whose hatred to the West is none the less than that one of Ali Khamenei. It betrayed - in the name of political correctness - Christians of the Middle East inseparably connected to Christian civilization.
While Russia is building its Empire, the West is concerned with self-destruction. This is a "suicidal syndrome" in the name of "progressive thinking" that killed both the progress, and thinking. The result of this contest is predictable. History does not like idiots, and especially "useful idiots."
* The “Great Game” was the strategic rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Asia in 19-th century;
** In 1969 Israel foreign minister Abba Eban called the 1967 borders “Auschwitz borders”;
*** Lord Shaftesbury (1801 - 1885) advocates of Christian Zionism in Britain, he was President of the British and Foreign Bible Society.