Five Questions: Russia’s Goals in Syria and Ukraine (repost from Carnegie Corporation of New York)


Rajan Menon, the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Chair in Political Science, and the author of new book, The Conceit of Humanitiarian Intervention, recently spoke with Carnegie Corporation’s Eugene Scherbakov about recent Russian actions in Syria, the state of U.S.-Russia relations and the way forward in Ukraine. What are Russia’s strategic intentions in Syria?

Putin intervened because he concluded—as did Iraq and Iran, which together with Hezbollah allies were already helping Syria’s army—that Assad’s state was on the verge of collapse. By the fall of 2015, the Islamist resistance—which is the strongest component of the opposition, not moderates and secularists—had made major inroads into Aleppo and Idlib province and had also begun to move into the coastal zone, the homeland of the ruling Alawite minority. Had Assad fallen, Syria, as Putin saw it, would have eventually been ruled by Islamists bent on creating a caliphate. This he was not prepared to let happen. The Syrian war has already attracted thousands of fighters from Russia’s war-torn North Caucasus, so the possibility of a caliphate in Syria had internal ramifications as well for Russia.

For the full interview, please visit: Carnegie Corporation: Five Questions

Rajan Menon: On Ukraine and Russia

Addressing the crisis in Ukraine, Professor Rajan Menon, the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Chair of Political Science at the Colin Powell School, has published commentary on a number of blogs in the last couple days.

Today on the Huffington Post, "Stop Bashing Obama on Ukraine":

"Even as I write these words, President Obama, who probably hasn't slept much lately, is being bombarded with advice on Ukraine: Do this. No, don't; do that instead. Do that, but not yet.

Apart from the pressure the president is under, it must be galling to be criticized by, and receive counsel from, individuals who have far less information than he does about what's happening on the ground in Ukraine and until recently (if then) couldn't spot Balaklava or Simferopol on a map.

Here's the thing: Many people are outraged, and justifiably, by Vladimir Putin's risible claim that he was forced to act to defend Ukraine's ethnic Russians (who exactly has been attacking them?). But there's nothing Obama can do to get the Russian soldiers, now patrolling various parts of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, back in their barracks...."

On Monday, the Huffington Post published another piece by Dr. Menon: "What Does Putin Want in Ukraine?"

"The first thing to be said about the question I've posed in the title is that no one truly knows -- and you shouldn't believe anyone who says they do. Even Vladimir Putin is unlikely to have figured out all his moves, or decided what would constitute victory for him in Ukraine, at an acceptable price.

The second point to be made is that the dizzying pace of events won't stop pundits from proffering prognostications. But the best they can -- or certainly should -- do during major crises, and this certainly is one, is to present the range of possibilities...."

Also published yesterday on Real Clear World: Dr. Menon's perspective on the road ahead for governance by Ukrainian's revolutionaries:

"The crisis in Ukraine tends to be presented and interpreted by Western experts as the result of the citizenry's rage over ex-president Viktor Yanukovych's decision to ice the Association Agreement with the EU, opting instead to turn to Russia for a $15 billion bailout and a one-third discount in natural gas prices.

But that's a half-truth at best.

This revolution was a culmination of Ukrainians' simmering anger at a government that had systematically forfeited the public trust with its mismanagement, venality and corruption. Simply scan the photos of opulent -- albeit aesthetically challenged -- homes, some of them mansions, that senior Ukrainian officials inhabited, and the extent of the thievery is apparent....Now, Ukraine's leaders may well prove up to the task. But revolutionaries have talents and temperaments that typically are not readily transferrable to good governance, which is un-heroic and even has an element of the clerical. Consider Boris Yeltsin and Lech Walesa: great at the barricades, not so great at the routines of administration...."

Rajan Menon

Rajan Menon holds the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Chair in Political Science at the City College of New York/City University of New York. Previously he was the Monroe J. Rathbone Professor and Chairman in the Department of International Relations at Lehigh University. He has been a Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC, an Academic Fellow and Senior Adviser at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Director for Eurasia Policy Studies at the Seattle-based National Bureau for Asian Research (NBR). He has taught at Columbia University and Vanderbilt University and served as Special Assistant for Arms Control and National Security to Congressman Stephen J. Solarz (D-NY), while an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, of which he is a member. His current work concerns American foreign and national security policy, international security, globalization, and the international relations of Asia and Russia and the other post-Soviet states.