Katherine Boom pinpoints one of the central dynamics sustaining Syria's crisis:
In the Syrian case for example, what many know but few discuss is that in 2011, Russia sold nearly $1 billion in arms to Assad’s government. After months of standing their ground Russian officials have finally agreed to temper weapons sales, yet this incident raises broader questions about the role that states should have in preventing crimes against humanity. Russia’s decision to limit its material support of Assad may be telling of the effects that pressure from the United States and others can have, which is not insignificant. The fact remains, however, that as they are currently interpreted the existing legal mechanisms are insufficient to ensure that accomplices to human rights abuses are likely to be held accountable. And Russia’s role in Syria is only a recent example of a long-standing problem…Studies indicate that outside support, even in the absence of effective control, exacerbates crimes against humanity.
The roots of Russia’s support for Butcher Assad go deep. This is much more than nostalgia for Russia’s last Middle East ally from Soviet days. This is about getting back in touch with Russia’s pre-communist foreign policy traditions, and about Putin’s relations with one of his most reliable and important bases of support: the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church has historically exerted a strong pull on Russian policies overseas, especially in defense of Christian minorities in the Balkans and Middle East. Throughout the events of the Arab Spring, Russia has been reluctant — to put it kindly — to join the efforts to unseat dictators like Hosni Mubarak and Bashar Assad. Though these tyrants have often been brutal toward many of their citizens, Christian minorities have, by and large, thrived under their rule.