Russia has actively used the war in Syria for its propaganda purposes, and it considers Syria as the place where its status of superpower, similar to that of the former USSR, could be regained. Habitually under Putin, the West is blamed for dual standards, whereas Russia portrays itself as fighter for justice. Russia’s policies in Syria starting from the year 2011 should be viewed in a wider context; it comprises the aggression against Ukraine as well as the creation of a multipolar world. In its turn, the discontent by some social strata in the West of their respective governments’ performance is a fruitful soil for Russia’s propaganda. These and the other conclusions have been drawn by the international group of researchers, the authors of the newly issued by the Centre For East European Policy Studies (CEEPS) and presented today collected articles “The War in Syria: Lessons for the West”.
The presentation of the new book was hosted by its co-editors: the CEEPS’s Executive director Andis Kudors, Member of the European Parliament Artis Pabriks and two of the book’s authors – media expert Liz Wahl and professor Julian Lindley-French under the guidance of the moderator, CEEPS’s researcher Māris Cepurītis, who is also a co-author of the book.
The researchers indicate that Russia, whose economy is highly dependent on the West, has suffered from international isolation after the annexation of Crimea, therefore the operation in Syria has provided it a possibility of joining again those who are sitting at the “important table where the fate of nations are decided”.
Māris Cepurītis, one of the co-authors of the book, stresses that during the Syrian crisis Russia has shown its position as a supporter of regimes even if they have limited control over the state and the support of its population, and that of the foreign audiences.
According to Cepurītis, in global political framework Russian policy in Syria is focused on limiting actions of the Western states, especially those of the USA, by clearly showing that Russia will not accept regime changes that are made without its consent. With this Russia is trying to limit the possibilities of its own regime change. But it is important for international society not to barter Russia’s involvement in the fight against terrorism with grave breaches of international law that happened with the annexation of Crimea.
The authors of the book underline that, unfortunately, while coping with the internal problems, the EU has become less active internationally. The Syrian crisis was among the factors bringing the large influx of the refugees into Europe. Even if Syrian conflict is resolved, the problem will not disappear. There is no single method or tool to solve the migration crisis. A simple, mechanical distribution of the immigrants among the recipient nations is not a long-lasting solution. The researchers indicate that the refugee crisis has revealed the European Union’s weakness in the context of radicalization of the neighbouring countries and the warfare.
Professor Julian Lindley-French, one of the authors of the book, predicts that, unless Europeans seek to generate a big, better future for Syria there is the very real chance no-one else will, and given the ensuing vacuum the spill-over to Europe and beyond could be catastrophic for Europeans. Any alleviation of suffering and/or defeat of ISIS is not possible without either confronting Russia and removing Assad, or accommodating Russia and talking to Assad.
In her turn, Liz Wahl, media expert who has worked for Russia Today (RT), an English-language international cable news channel funded by the Russian government, and who, being unable to stand the channel’s lies about the Ukrainian events, submitted her resignation during live broadcast, explains that RT aims to shape the worldview of its news consumers to be sceptical of the US, EU, NATO, and other Western institutions and media. The resulting presentation of information when it comes to Russia or its allies often bears little resemblance to reality. The challenge for the West is to convince its own people to see through the messaging of a rogue government, to be aware that the Kremlin doesn’t play by traditional rules, and neither does the media that it sponsors, as well as to spot Russian propaganda and disbelieve it.
Artis Pabriks, co-author of the new book and Member of European Parliament, indicates that Russian authoritarian leadership rightly understands that its economic, political and military means has limits. Therefore, the relative share of global power can be increased by diminishing the share of Western power.
Pabriks stresses that we, Europeans, have to admit that if we solve our internal challenges, external challenges and threats cannot seriously harm us. In turn, if we as Europeans do not face these internal challenges and weaknesses of our continent now, we will not be capable to stand against outside challenges coming from Russia, international terrorism or anywhere else.
In the conclusion of the collected articles, Andis Kudors and Artis Pabriks, co-editors of the book, underline that the West still has enough resources to solve the refugee crisis, to fight back Daesh and to stabilise the situation in Syria. What is needed now is not to fall into pessimistic reasoning and extremes, but to become aware of our potential and to act decisively, thus preventing the achievements of the previous decades from the collapse.
Full text of the collected articles in English is available in electronic form to the interested persons here.
The research has been carried out with support of the Group of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament and Konrad Adenauer Foundation.