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A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

By Julie Bishop - posted Thursday, 28 June 2012

Legendary Prime Minister of Great Britain Winston Churchill said in 1939 that, "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."

Churchill's famous observation perhaps explains the actions of Russia in recent times.

There has been considerable international criticism of Russia over its decision to veto, along with China, motions in the United Nations Security Council that could pave the way for military intervention to break the cycle of violence in Syria.


Reports of massacres of unarmed civilians amid a brutal crackdown had led to calls for external intervention.

Russia and China have both rejected such action and argued that some nations had exceeded the United Nations mandate when the no-fly zone over Libya led to a bombing campaign against Gaddafi's ground forces.

To follow Churchill's logic, the key may well be several threads of self-interest that Russia is pursuing.

Russia has a naval base located at the Syrian port of Tartus and it is an important part of the supply chain for Russian ships operating in an arc from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

Instability within Syria naturally makes Russia nervous as they cannot predict whether regime change would bring an administration to Syria that continues to be supportive of the Russian presence.

Secondly, the current Syrian regime has bought billions of dollars worth of military hardware from Russia.


This has ranged from fighter jets to tanks, artillery and small arms.

Given that the Assad regime has been using Russian armaments in the crackdown against thousands of people in Syria, it would be understandable for those opposed to the regime to be deeply cynical about Russia's actions.

Of even greater concern about Russia's behaviour is that it may be using the Syrian violence to advance its influence and strategic reach in the Middle East.

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About the Author

Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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