Today in Horrible Places

Today comes the news that Russia is planning to deploy itsMarines to Syria, ostensibly to protect Russian citizens in the country as well as the Russian naval base there.  The news coverage says that Russia is deploying “two naval vessels” – left unmentioned is that Russia is actually deploying two amphibious assault ships.  In the United States, those contain a Marine Expeditionary Unit with 2,000 Marines (though the Russian ones are smaller).  What’s really happening here is that Russia isn’t the Russian navy sending ships to Syria – it’s the Russian navy sending a force of a thousand-plus Marines to protect the Russian base at Tartus, with enough firepower to beat off any conceivable Free Syrian Army assault and to ensure Russia maintains a secure beachhead at Tartus.  In other words, Russia is purchasing an option for later direct intervention in Syria.
I wonder how much the role of precedence matters in international relations – specifically the US intervention in Libya.  While obviously intent matters and overthrowing a dictator is better on the merits than defending one, it’s certainly not insane for the Russians to see parallels. If the Russians did intervene in Syria, I think they would point out that it’s not like the United States had any sort of UN mandate to overthrow Gadaffi as opposed to protect civilians.  This is part and parcel of the old Soviet rhetorical tactic of adopting American platitudes about “democracy” and using it to justify their interventions in defense of “proletarian democracy”.  If precedent matters, and it’s unclear if it does, the United States’s habit of reckless foreign intervention does open the way for anti-democratic forces to recklessly intervene abroad as well.
On the upside, deploying Russian troops to Syria does, I think, make it rather less likely that the US will be tempted to intervene there.  It’s a horrible mess, and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything good coming to anyone involved there, unfortunately including everyone in Syria.

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