After the U.S. strike on Syria, it’s no secret that relations between America and Russia have turned sour. The Trump administration has begun hurling accusations at Russia in regard to its involvement in the Syrian chemical attack, and Russia, in turn, has pledged its support to Assad’s Syrian regime and turned its back on America. But the question that’s left so many people dumbfounded really has very little to do with current events. While Russia and America are not on the best of terms these days, citizens of both countries are well aware of the hot and cold relationship the two economic powers seem to possess. The bigger question, instead, is why Russia — a bustling, global powerhouse of a nation — has gone to such great lengths to defend Syria, a small country that represents less than a fraction of Russia’s gross domestic product? As it turns out, the friendship is much deeper than economy or population. In fact, according to several records, Russia-Syria relations go as far back as the 1800s.
In the days when Syria was still a part of the Ottoman empire, records show the then-Russian empire was the first to initiate contact between the two. But after initially setting up a political office in the city of Damascus, Russia remained relatively quiet in the region for quite a while — though historians claim the empire was partially responsible for the formation of the Syrian-Lebanese Communist Party in 1924. Two decades later, however, in 1944, records show that the Russians decided to take another look at relations with the Middle East. This is when an official partnership between the former Soviet Union and Syria was created. Sources claim the two nations signed a sort of secret agreement that granted Syria Russian military aid and political favor. In return, the Syrians supported Russia for the duration of the infamous Cold War. As time progressed, Russia assisted Syria, and was, in turn, assisted by Syria in several debacles, including the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 and the Baghdad Pact of 1955. Historians indicate that the Pact specifically, which was originally designed to keep Soviet influence out of the Middle East, actually significantly strengthened relations between Russia and Syria and solidified their status as strong allies.
The 1966 Syrian coup d’etat, followed by the “Corrective Movement” of 1970 (which thrust Hafez al-Assad, the father of current President Bashar al-Assad, into the presidency), proved particularly beneficial for Russian military forces. According to records, it was the first time Russia was able to establish a military base in the Middle East, and it created an even thicker bond between the two growing nations. In fact, under the governance of Hafez al-Assad, Russia and Syria enjoyed a very symbiotic relationship. Russia was able to expand its military presence in the Middle East, and Syrian scholars and diplomats were able to study in the best schools Russia had to offer.
After al-Assad’s death in 2000, his son, Bashar al-Assad, assumed the presidency and continued in his father’s footsteps. Although relations between the two countries are not quite as strong as they were in the late 1990s, sources indicate the bond between Russia and Syria is still very evident.
With the extensive history between the two countries, Russia’s stubborn support of al-Assad’s regime almost seems to make sense. Russia was one of the very few countries to stand by Syria after its most recent chemical attack, and recent reports indicate Syria may have even moved its aircraft to Russian bases for more protection.
As the U.S. tries everything it can to keep Syria under control, sources claim the centuries-old friendship between the former Soviet Union and the controversial nation in the Middle East may make its efforts considerably more difficult.
[Featured Image by Alexei Druzhinin/RIA-Novosti/Kremlin Pool Photo/AP Images, File]