Factors of Russia's Successful Involvement in Ukraine and Syria

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President Vladimir Putin would have spent twenty-five years at the height of Russia's power by the end of his term as president. His actions have defined post-Soviet Russia perhaps more than any since the end of communism in 1991. Russia with the assistance of Putin has defined its new role in the world, although not in a way that the West has welcomed. He has achieved this with a backdrop of sanctions, economic decline and ruptured relations between Russia and the West. Is all this success down to him or the lack of direct action by the West?

The Western governments have demonstrated time and again to be highly risk averse and this behavior is likely to remain. NATO's military commitments are considerably focused by America as the Alliance’s dominant member. However, in the United Nations decisions are taken by governments who have no ambition to put their solders in harm’s way. This continued risk aversion although not a sign of weakness in itself, can only prove to damage our global reputation and allow the rise of power from outside our sphere of influence.

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This essay will breakdown Russia's involvement in both Ukraine and Syria, with a view to identify if their success was down to strength, or because of the lack of decisive action by the West. I will give my opinion before offering a conclusion and final reflections.

Russia’s Strategic Successes in Ukraine

It is the clear view of the West, that Russia is to blame for the Ukrainian crisis but the US and their European allies must share some of the responsibility due to their lack of forethought and ineptitude. Just by recalling history, understanding Russia's political dynamic or anticipating Putin's resolve via the clear warnings in front of them, the West could have avoided Russia's actions in the Ukraine.

1990 saw President Clinton's administration push for NATO to expand. 1999 brought in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and in 2004 it included, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Slovenia. This was a concern to Russia but it didn't see it as a major threat as none of the new members shared boarders with Russia (except for the tiny Baltic countries). However, at the April 2008 summit, NATO began looking further east towards Ukraine and Georgia. Although this approach was supported by the UK it was opposed by Germany and France as they feared this would antagonize Russia. A compromise was made and although the formal membership process was paused, NATO released a statement supporting the ambition of Ukraine and Georgia and declared: “These countries will become members of NATO”. Russia, received this so called comprise with discontent and declared that allowing these two countries to join NATO would be a direct threat to Russia.

With Georgia on the verge of joining NATO trying to break out of Russia’s sphere of influence, Russia saw an opening to rein in its neighbor and display its military might in the region. With America, UK and NATO calling for a ceasefire, the conflict continued and Russia quickly took control of Tskhinvali. Beyond diplomatic efforts and humanitarian aid, the West did little to bring an end to the conflict. This inaction by the West ultimately demonstrated to Russia that it was essentially lacking in the will to intervene and allowed Russia's confidence to grow. Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008 should have dispelled any remaining doubts to the West about Putin’s determination and tenacity to prevent Georgia and the Ukraine from joining NATO.

The EU had also been looking eastward, and in 2009, it revealed its Eastern Partnership initiative, to promote prosperity in such countries as Georgia and Ukraine with aspirations to incorporate them into the EU economy. This was perceived by Russia to be a progressive disassociation of those countries from the Russian Federation and was halted immediately. With the clear threat to Russia's ideology, along with efforts to spread Western values and democratization in Ukraine as demonstrated by the Orange Revolution were the catalyst for Russia's actions. February 2014 saw the military take-over of Crimea annexed by Russia, the speed and execution of this three-week long operation was obviously well-prepared and rehearsed. There is strong speculation that the decision to annex Crimea was probably made back in 2008 after the NATO announcement to include Ukraine and Georgia. Russia then proceeded to shut down all Ukrainian media, impose tight blockades on Ukrainian land boarders and stop all flights leaving Ukraine. From there, Ukraine was subjected to one sided information (or disinformation) by the Russian state media.

In a keynote speech at a joint session of the two chambers of the Russian Parliament in 2014, President Vladimir Putin clearly stated the geopolitical rationale for the annexation of Crimea. NATO’s presence in close proximity to Russia’s Southern borders, “directly in front of the Russian house”, “on Russia’s historic territories” is utterly unacceptable.

Putin’s actions should be easy for the West to comprehend. The huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, Imperial and Nazi Germany all crossed to strike at Russia itself was never going to be allowed to become a Western stronghold. Ukraine serves as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance.

So, to answer the question do I agree. Although it wasn't necessarily the weakness of the West that allowed for Russia's success, it would be unwise to assume that its continued expansion and Western influence would lead to the eventual outcome. It is also clear, that the imposed international sanctions will never return Crimea back to Ukraine despite their intensity. In this particular sense, the function of economic sanctions by the EU is futile. They have had no educational or deterrent effect and no apparent positive impact on the developments in Ukraine.

Russia’s Strategic Successes in the Middle East

The Syrian humanitarian crisis had become increasingly intense since 2011 and threatened regional stability. The failed attempts by President Bashar al-Assad to regain power highlight key government political fault lines. Regionally Iran has been the strongest champion of Assad but globally Russia provided the diplomatic safeguard with its supply of arms. The question here is why has Russia continually sustained an opposing position on Syria, not only to the West but the majority of the Muslim and Arab states. I believe this was answered in the 2013 Russian policy which shunned the Western implementation plans, designed to overthrow lawful Syrian authority under the auspices of protecting the civilian population.

The arms trade between Russia and Syria could be aligned to Russian decisions in the region, for example the supply of Surface to Air Missile (SAM) systems to Syria. Russia also alluded to supplying the powerful long-range S-300 SAM system with an alleged range of a hundred and twenty miles, despite Western and Iranian warnings that such systems would be regionally destabilizing for the Middle East overall. It was thought that the mere suggestion of this long-range SAM would function as a deterrent to any Western-led intervention in Syria, and their perceived presence would drastically up the ante and risk any efforts to impose even a limited no-fly zone over Syrian airspace. It should also not be overlooked that there was an additional regional interest to Russia, this was the Mediterranean warm water port and naval facility in Tartus which Russia holds sovereignty over the territory, along with its military airbase in Latakia. These facilities strengthen Russia's position in the Middle East.

In July 2012 a spokesman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry confirmed Syria held chemical weapons and the following month Obama declared his 'Red Line' and the threat of military force if chemical weapons were used. However numerous chemical attacks proceeded killing hundreds of people, including children. After the atrocities in Aug 2013 around Damascus and the eventual UN conformation that Sarin gas had been used, the UK voted to intervene in Syria against Assad but lost the parliamentary vote. This was due to the British domestic opinion opposed involvement in another Middle Eastern conflict, President Obama, having lost his main ally postponed US action indefinitely. As political pressure amplified and the threat of intervention by military force increased, remarkably a rapid deal was achieved by Russia and America for the full surrender of all chemical weapons and production equipment from Syria.

America’s predominant inaction led to Bashar al-Assad's government to send an invitation to Russia requesting military aid on 30th September 2015. President Putin was now leading a full military campaign against a terror militia that was internationally condemned, presenting himself as the pioneer of an international coalition against oppression. Throughout the intervention, Russia had used both diplomacy and military force to good effect in order to become a key player in Syria much to the expense of America. The strong and decisive support given to Bashar al-Assad against his opposing rebel force reversed the battle picture in his favor and more importantly away from the American supported opposition. Russia has prevented Bashar al-Assad from being held to account by the West, for the use of chemical weapons, and ensured that the UN peace talks aimed at removing Bashar al-Assad were thwarted by diplomatic talks with Turkey and Iran and sidelined the Western nations.

Therefore, the choice of inaction as a policy by the West, has allowed Russia to carry out decisive action, securing their interests and bolster their influence in the Middle East.


In conclusion, Russia had given little interest towards the causes of the uprisings in Ukraine and Georgia, it only recognized the continued Western interference. Rather, the only perceived issue was Western backing for socio-political groups, in areas of interest. It was due to the same concern that Russia took a pessimistic stance towards the West's direction on Syria, which explains why it continually opposed the Western desires and vision since 2011. The reluctance by the West to take decisive action in Syria, allowed Russia to not only intervene but also to secure their interests and influence in the region. When NATO adopts inaction as a policy, it will allow malign actors to take advantage and promote their interests. Russia perceived as the force protecting its allies has caused numerous NATO members within the Middle East and Europe to shift towards Moscow.

However, it should not be viewed that Russia's success is purely down to the weakness of ineptitude of the West. Putin’s continued commitment and vision towards a global order which champions the sovereignty of current state leaders, remains an expression of his concern of the domestic state order of Russia. President Vladimir Putin has abandoned the former president’s vision of a multipolar world and post-Soviet integration with modernization and pragmatic means of asserting Russia’s great-power interests in global politics.

Therefore, I believe that the opportunities for Russia's success in the conflicts above were presented due to either the weakness or ineptitude of the West but the drive to capitalize on these opportunities are down to Putin's global vision and ideology for Russia.

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Factors of Russia’s Successful Involvement in Ukraine and Syria. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 24, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/factors-of-russias-successful-involvement-in-ukraine-and-syria/
“Factors of Russia’s Successful Involvement in Ukraine and Syria.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/factors-of-russias-successful-involvement-in-ukraine-and-syria/
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