5 Explanations of Russian Interests in Syria

This fact sheet provides an overview to the question “why does Russia support Syria.”


  1. Why Does Russia Support Syria? – The Historical Relationship


The relationship between Syria and Russia dates back to the days of the Cold War. The original strongman of Syria, Hafiz al Assad, learned to fly fighter jets in the former Soviet Union. When Assad took control of Syria by way of a coup in 1970 he immediately began to strengthen relations between Syria and the Soviet Union. Syria was aligned with the Soviets, countering the US, throughout much of the Cold War.


  1. Friends with Financial Benefits – Explaining the Connection Between Russia and Syria


This relationship proved profitable to both sides. Hafiz al Assad began purchasing massive arms stockpiles from the Soviets creating a much needed profit channel for the latter within the Middle East. In addition to this,  the Soviets set up their own naval and resupply base in the port of Tartus Syria. After the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union this would be Russia’s only port in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

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  1. Cultural Connection Between Russia and Syria


Throughout these early decades of this relationship a cultural exchange was established between the Soviet Union and Syria. Many of the most influential Syrian elites, including many among Assad’s Alawite sect, attended school and even married Soviet brides.


After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union these cultural collaborations facilitated the extension for many of the formal agreements, treaties and contracts between Russia and Syria.


  1. Why Does Russia Support Syria? Ego and International Pride


After throwing in his lot with Bashir al Assad following the beginning of the conflict in 2011, Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, essentially staked his country’s profile and legitimacy of strength to their success or failure in backing Syria. This was the first time Russia, under Putin, had put their international reputation on the line and they were not about to lose. Putin foresaw Syria being the place where Russia would show the world that his country remained a force to be reckoned with. Most agree he was successful in this endeavor.


Syria has also provided a playing field for Russia to test out its modern military and weaponry against ISIS and the enemies of Assad.



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  1. Russian Interests in Syria Provide Domestic Distractions


Domestically there are benefits for Vladimir Putin’s support of Syria and Bashar al Assad. The Russian economy has struggled for the last decade. Russian involvement in the Syrian war provides a distraction from many of these hardships. The Russian government has proven agile in focusing the Russian public’s attention toward external threats and victories rather than internal hardships.


In addition, there are many Russians who have gone to fight with and for ISIS in Syria. The threat of their return to Russia with sinister and terroristic intent is very real and Putin hopes to eliminate that threat through his involvement in the Syrian War. This threat of course has also been used to further Russia’s involvement and interests in Syria.


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