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What’s Putin’s Interest in Syria?

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Aleksandr Buzgalin: Putin’s aims in Syria through a domestic lens.

Aleksandr Buzgalin: Putin’s aims in Syria through a domestic lens.


JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Both Syria and the United States have indicated they will accept a Russian-backed plan to put serious chemical weapons stockpile under international control.

Now joining us to discuss the Russian perspective on this is Aleksandr Buzgalin. He’s a professor of political economics at Moscow State University, editor of the independent democratic left magazine Alternative, and he’s a coordinator of the Russian social movement by the same name, also called Alternatives.

Thank you so much for joining us.

ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN, PROF. POLITICAL ECONOMICS, MOSCOW STATE UNIV.: Thank you for [incompr.] talk with you, and I’m really very glad to be in contact with you again.

NOOR: Can you explain why Russian President Vladimir Putin, he arranged this deal? President Obama had obviously backed himself into a corner. He didn’t have the support of the UN Security Council. He was losing support of the American people. He likely would have not had the votes in Congress to authorize a strike on Syria. Why did Russia give him this lifeline? And what is Russia’s interests in both Syria and Iran?

BUZGALIN: So, first of all, I want to say that I want to talk about interests of Russian people and not about interests of Putin and his colleagues about Russian authorities, because really we have very often big contradictions between these two actors of our social and political life.

But now I think Putin made something positive. It’s not typical for his internal policy, but for foreign policy this time it’s more or less a progressive step. Why he did it, of course, it’s better to ask Mr. Putin, not me. I am not president of Russia still. But my command will be following. I think Russia is trying to show that our country is one of the important geopolitical actors, players, and we really want to have our presentation in central, this key region of world conflicts and to play our own role. This is, I think, real geopolitical interests of our authorities.

Also, there are some important reasons, much more important reasons. This is first of all peace and absence of war, absence of killings and killings of thousands and thousands of people, which already started and which can become terrible catastrophe if United States will use modern weapons and Russia will participate in this conflict from another side. It’s really terrible threat which can be compared with Vietnam War, or even more dangerous because Israel is nearby. And this is also very important agent, actor of these conflicts.

So from my point of view, Russian now is realizing its geopolitical interests. i .But these interests are more or less adequate, or better to say more adequate for peace in the region than geopolitical interests of the elite of the United States and President Obama.

And I completely agree with United States citizens, majority of citizens, as I understood, who don’t want to have a war in this region. And this is interest of our people.

Why Obama did not express interests of majority of Americans and Putin this time expressed interests of not only Russians but I think majority of other people in the world? This is an interesting question. But Russia sometimes can play a positive role in world politics, in spite of the fact that I want to stress again in internal policy our president and our prime minister are realizing not the best variant, definitely not the best variant of economic and social policy.

NOOR: So, many would argue that Russia is motivated by their own narrow national interests, both economically and as politically, like you said, geopolitically as well. How would you respond to that?

BUZGALIN: I agree. Mainly, interests of our state, our elite, is geopolitical interests, little bit economic interests, and generally respect to Russian state and the international affairs. But, again, sometimes such interests can play positive role. And it was when it was interconnected with anticolonial struggle, for example. It can be during war for liberation of small countries which took place in 20th century many, many times. This time I think it’s the same situation. To say that if President Putin is not the best leader for Russian democracy, for Russian socially oriented policy, and so on, that’s why he all times will make negative steps in foreign policy, it’s not good logic. It’s not logical it all, from my point of view.

And it’s necessary to understand why we have such balance of interests. I think that interest of Obama, in spite of his some positive steps, in past especially, in social-political sphere, geopolitical interests of United States, of United States’ state, if I can say so, yeah, authorities is now continuation of domination. It’s interest of empire. And not to fight against imperialistic interests of the United States authorities, but to find any alternatives to these intentions, this is positive, even if these intentions are going not from the best state in the world. I like my country most of all, but I do not like most of all our president. I think we can find something better.

But, again, interests of struggle against absolute domination of U.S., especially by military force, by military means, this is, in any case, positive struggle. It can be the same with Third World countries, sometimes not very democratic or simply nondemocratic regimes. We’re fighting for national liberation against this monopolistic domination. And it was positive struggle, progressive struggle, in spite of the fact that [incompr.] regime was not progressive it all. Now we have more or less the same.

I think Russia plays more positive role than United States in this conflict. And the most important is merely dream or maybe even romantic dream about some real contacts between international community, social movements, international national social movements, NGOs who are fighting against war, who are fighting for peace in region, in Syria, around Syria, in Middle East in general.

And in another hand, with the Russian state and some other states who don’t want to have war. I am afraid that this is romantic dream, because Putin, our foreign minister, and other actors are not very interested in contacts with NGOs, social movements, alter-globalist movement in general. We have enough examples. Venezuela in past and a little bit now has such context. And when Chávez and modern president of Venezuela is doing something in international sphere, he is doing very often in cooperation. Of course he has some contradictions, but generally in cooperation with many peace movements and other social movements.

For Russia it’s not the case. In Russia we still are very afraid of any international influence for Russian internal policy, and all types of NGOs are dangerous for Russian state. And this is really negative.

NOOR: So, much of the world must see Putin as a hero at this point for averting this possible strike on Syria, which many would say would lead to further disaster in that country. But he’s also backing a murderous dictator. The UN just-released a report today which said while the rebels have committed one massacre over the past year and a half, Bashar al-Assad’s regime is responsible for at least eight massacres over the last year and a half. Why is he backing this murderous dictator?

BUZGALIN: So it’s typical contradiction of modern international conflicts.

First of all, about Putin, I think that of course this initiative was pronounced by Putin. But this is an issue initiative of Russian government, of Russian foreign minister, of everybody. And it’s very interconnected with public opinion in Russia. And this time, Putin expressed the opinion of majority of Russians, who were talking all these weeks about necessity to stop the war. It’s about necessity to have one or another variant of peaceful solution of this contradiction and to predict intervention of the United States.

About internal regime in Syria, it’s very complicated situation with terrible contradictions, internal contradictions between different alien or different tendencies in Islam religion, a different fraction, if I can say, in Islam religion, contradiction between different social [incompr.] And very often in such situation, especially when the war is coming—and the war is [incompr.] in Syria during the last weeks. In this situation, to talk about formal democracy is just a game, because in such situation it’s necessary to have more solidarity of majority of people, even when dictator or not democratic leader is expressing this unity. And after that, it’s necessary to think about real democratization.

But to make democracy through, I don’t know, missiles, through F-15 or F-16 [incompr.] rockets, bombs, this is useless. This is just crime. It was a lot of such elements to make export of revolution or export of democracy. In both cases, this leads only to catastrophes, internal catastrophes. It’s never will lead to real growth of democracy, social justice, and so on. That’s why it’s possible to make all efforts to democratize internal Syria relations, but after ending of the war.

Through such war, which became not civil war in Syria but international conflicts with interests of big powers, in such situation it’s necessary, first of all, to stop military conflict and not to escalate this conflict. The Syrian people can and must solve their problems themselves. And international community can help them to do this, but cannot interfere by force in their contradictions.

NOOR: So I think it’s worth mentioning that Russia’s also sending weapons and selling weapons to the Syrian regime. I wanted to ask you: what is Russia’s relationship with Iran in all of this? As soon as the deal was reached between the U.S. and Syria on the chemical weapons, Haaretz has reported that Russia has sold antiaircraft missiles to Iran and agreed to build additional nuclear reactors in Iran. And finally, why would Russia risk upsetting or angering the United States to such a large degree through this whole deal?

BUZGALIN: Well, first of all, any form of attack on Russia will lead to the destruction of the earth. We have terrible nuclear weapons, and United States has the same. And in the situation of global conflict, the planet will disappear. It’s a real world threat for everybody. And I think in this situation such conflict is nearly impossible, and I hope it is impossible. This is first and very important.

Second, we are living in the world where it’s dangerous to say something what American president will not like. If the president of the United States will not like any initiative of Russia, Russia will be punished. If U.S. president doesn’t like any initiative of Iran, Iran will be punished. So U.S. now is playing role of world policemen. And I think you had such movie, policeman killer or killer cop, something like that. When cop is becoming killer, he is not defender of law, and he is even more dangerous than normal criminal guy. So that’s why I am afraid that we must think not about anger or absence of anger of United States president, but about real essence and real use for—is it useful or not for peace, one or another step of Russia.

Really I think in the Middle East it could be and it must be counterforce to U.S. domination, and it can be and must be balance of forces. And a lot of countries cannot understand why one country can have nuclear weapon and another cannot have nuclear weapon. If United States government and president are really so open and democratic, and Congress of the United States, let the Russian experts, Iranian experts—I don’t know—experts from other countries come to United States and check how much nuclear weapons has the United States, how much chemical weapons has United States and if it’s really has, and so on and so far. International inspection of United States is impossible. It’s like a stupid idea, anybody will say. But this is not stupid idea. It’s just equal rules of the game. If international community can check Syria, Iran, and so on, why international community cannot check United Kingdom, United States, and so on, or Russia?

That’s why I think we must, step by step, talk, act, and think in another direction, in direction of real international solidarity, like as practical measure, not as abstract slogan. And in some aspects, I think we have real, very deep but very important contradiction. When as alternative of United States we have now very often not democratic and not very socially oriented systems, like in Iran, in Syria, in Russia. Of course, we are very different, but in any case. And this is also a situation which was produced by absolute domination of global capital, not even U.S. government of Obama, but domination of global capital. We have fundamental reason for such situation.

NOOR: Alexander Buzgalin, thank you so much for joining us.

BUZGALIN: And thank you for opportunity to talk with you.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.