The country’s current strategy risks fuelling a sectarian warby Robert Fry / December 21, 2015 / Leave a comment
Speaking to the UN General Assembly in September, President Vladimir Putin laid out Russia’s position on Syria. It was a mistake, he claimed, to refuse co-operation with the Syrian Government. Assad was the only participant in the Syrian war with any democratic authority, Putin said, and was the best hope for defeating terrorism in the region, of which Islamic State (IS) was only one element. In making his case, he said that Russia had legitimate interests in this and other parts of its “near abroad” and that they would be pursued with vigour, even when they conflicted with Western policy. Putin’s strategic clarity of purpose was striking and took many observers by surprise—but the logic underpinning his analysis was not new. It was strikingly similar to the Tsarist foreign policy of the early twentieth century.
For a region with such ancient provenance, it is remarkable how the shape of the Middle East today owes so much to events of the early nineteenth century. The Ottoman Empire had provided unb…