October 11, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 7129

Russian Expert Bordachev: Over The Two Years Of The Syrian Campaign, Russia Gained Power And Prestige

October 11, 2017
Russia, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 7129

On September 29, 2017, Russian expert Timofei Bordachev published an analysis, "For Ourselves And For The World – Over The Two Years Of The Syrian Campaign, Russia Has Strengthened Its International Standing And Changed The Global Rules Of The Game," in the Russian newspaper Izvestia.[1] The article marks the second anniversary of the Russian military operation in Syria,[2] and analyzes its consequences for the entire "world order." According to Bordachev, the Russian military operation in Syria rehabilitated the role of Moscow in the global state, writing: "In the middle of the last century, a prominent American international politics expert, Hans Morgenthau, wrote: 'Nations struggle for power and prestige.' This phrase is an excellent answer to the question 'What has the Syrian operation given Moscow?'"

The following are excerpts of Bordachev's article in Izvestia:[3]

Timofei Bordachev (Source:

Russian Army in Syria (Source:

"This Operation Has Played An Important Role In Rehabilitating Our Country On The Global Stage"

"Two years have passed since the start of the active phase of the Russian military operation in Syria. It is enough time to appraise its significance in the history of Russian foreign policy and international relations in general. Perhaps one should start with remembering and deeply feeling again what a non-entity Russia was in international politics not even 25, but only 15-20 years ago. The disintegration of an empire that had been centuries in the making and clumsy attempts to get integrated in the West were accompanied by terrible economic shocks and a war in North Caucasus. Yes, Russia still had nuclear weapons. But even that produced primarily disparaging associations, like 'Upper Volta with missiles'. The country, in fact, did not have an army capable of defending its national interests beyond simple survival.

"In 1999, Russia could not, politically or technically, defend Yugoslavia, which was being put up against the wall for an attempt to maintain its sovereignty over its own territory. In 2004, European Union representatives called their relations with Russia a strategic partnership. But at the same time, they calmly and arrogantly claimed they could not violate their internal regulations to facilitate the passage of Russian citizens between the mainland and Kaliningrad. Russia was magnanimously admitted to the key institutions of the 'liberal world order,' but only as a fee payer, not as a participant with equal rights.

"By the middle of the last decade, shelves in Russian shops became filled with goods. The survival and internal unity of the country were no longer in doubt. However, in the second half of the 2000s, a mentally unstable Georgian leader decided that he could occupy South Ossetia, killing Russian peacekeepers into the bargain, and get away with it. Nowadays, such a thought will not even enter anybody's mind. But in August 2008, most observers both in Russia and in the world were certain that Moscow would not go to the length of a military response. And yet it did, which became lesson number one for many, although not for everyone. Russia was urged to 'concentrate' and not waste its energy on supposedly unnecessary foreign affairs. They forgot to mention, however, that previous Russian 'concentration' after its defeat in the Crimean War ended up with Skobelev's regiments reaching the shores of the Bosporus in 1878. In 2015, it became clear that Russia had a fully functional army capable of fighting.

"In the middle of the last century, a prominent American international politics expert, Hans Morgenthau, wrote: 'Nations struggle for power and prestige'. This phrase is an excellent answer to the question 'What has the Syrian operation given Moscow?' In addition to the opportunity to test new technical means in the inventory of the Russian army, this operation has played an important role in rehabilitating our country on the global stage. It has brought Russia back into the circle of powers whose opinion is decisive. Neither its participation in G8, nor its membership in WTO or other attempts to become part of the Western community have produced this result. And it's especially important that the goal of Moscow's military activity in the Middle East was not destruction but preservation – it strove to prevent the destruction of the Syrian state. It is the state that remains the only form of counteracting chaos – which has been graphically demonstrated by the experience of such unfortunate countries as Libya and Somali. Since Russia acted as a defender and not an aggressor, it is hard to find exact historical analogies to its campaign in Syria. Although they do exist in some sense. Ф: ТАСС

"For example, one may recall the successful intervention of the U.S. and its allies from the Organization of American States in Grenada in 1983. It happened after 10 years of failures and defeats in foreign policy, the most striking of which were a spectacular flight from Vietnam and a complete inability to deal with the revolutionary Iranians who had taken American diplomats as hostages. President Ronald Reagan understood the importance of a military success for domestic politics and for the U.S. image abroad. That is why the contemporary history of American leadership in the world starts with the Grenada operation.

"In 1962, it was important for Mao Zedong to restore the self-esteem of the Chinese nation after decades of civil war and foreign intervention, as well as economic shocks. And the fast-moving military conflict with India contributed to the rehabilitation of the Chinese in their own eyes. One may say that Margaret Thatcher pursued similar goals when she got into a fight with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in the spring of 1982. All the previous years, the British society had been in deep depression, caused by the collapse of the empire and the economic shocks of the 1970s. By resolutely defending its national interests in South Atlantic, the UK demonstrated to the world that it remained an important power. Although, in contrast to the U.S. and China, the political capital created by Thatcher was wasted by subsequent UK governments. Russia should take into account this negative experience as well.

"Russia Started The Final Stage Of The Overhaul Of The Entire System Of International Order'

"However, Russian operation in Syria has much more important strategic consequences than just our moral rehabilitation as a great power. Two years ago, Russia started the final stage of the overhaul of the entire system of international order, which emerged after the Cold War. There was one simple principle at its center: only one state in the world – the U.S. – has the right to apply force and to determine who is to live and who is to die. There are no morals and no rules as such in international politics. During every stretch of history, the morals and the rules that apply are those espoused by the powers capable of imposing or defending them with deadly force. In the 19th century, such powers were the countries that defeated the revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Between the two world wars – Great Britain and France. Yet, their rule did not last long and was so irresponsible that it led to the outbreak of the most horrible war in the history of humanity. In the second half of the 20th century, the world was divided into two camps, in each of which the leaders imposed their rules of the game on others. This opposition was replaced after 1991 by the so-called liberal world order, no less authoritarian in its essence. It created unique opportunities for development for many countries and peoples, and China is the most striking example of that. But at the same time, it was extremely intolerant towards expressions of political dissent. And above all, it implied Washington's absolute right to any arbitrary interpretation of international rules and norms of behavior. All the others had to play by the book.

"Moscow's decision to start a military operation in Syria made the erosion of absolute power of the U.S. and its closest allies in global affairs practically irreversible. On the one hand, it is good, because it contributes to making international life more democratic. The world has lived under dictatorship long enough. But on the other hand, what has happened over the past two years is dangerous too: it provokes the strongest military and economic power in the world (and the U.S. continues to remain so) to be more aggressive in the defense of its privileges. And the American president's shouts heard now in the UN about his readiness to 'destroy North Korea' are also a consequence of the events that passed into their final stage two years ago. Trump's obvious impotence while possessing colossal military capabilities may bring about a situation which could be dangerous for the survival of humanity.

"In the spring of 2014, Russia put an end to the U.S. monopoly on violating the international law. It was necessary to ensure the free expression of will of the people of Crimea and to prevent a bloody conflict there. With the inevitable involvement of Russia and the Western countries. Since 2015, not only the omnipotence of the Cold War winners has become questionable, but even their physical capacity to decide the destiny of other nations. This fact, in its turn, imposes a new and not always familiar responsibility on Russia, China, and other non-Western centers. They have to be ready to continue to demonstrate the ability to be dependable 'limiters' of the lawlessness of the West and at the same time to develop their own positive agendas for their near and far neighbors. In other words, it looks like Russia must definitively move away from simple struggle for existence and start building a more stable world of the future."


[1] The author is the director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics, director of the Eurasian Program of the Valdai Club.

[2] On September 30 2015, the Federation Council unanimously approved President Vladimir Putin's request to use Russian Armed Forces abroad. That was the start of the operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces against the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

[3], September 29, 2017.

Share this Report: