A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia’s Defense Ministry Oct. 19, 2015 shows what Russia says is an explosion after airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force on militant workshops near Sermania in Idlib province, Syria. (Reuters/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via Reuters)On Sept. 30, the Russian Parliament unanimously approved the use of military force in Syria to combat the Islamic State. Hours later, a senior U.S. military official revealed that Russia had carried out its first airstrikes in Syria.
But here’s what’s really controversial: Russia did not target areas held by the Islamic State. Rather, it is attacking the Free Syrian forces fighting against Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. Why?
According to the vast majority of Western scholars and reports from the Russian state media, Vladimir Putin wants to keep Assad ruling at least part of Syria. Putin’s alliance with Assad often gets explained as being about strategic factors, such as Russia’s multi-billion dollar arms sales to Assad, Russia’s Tartus naval base in Syria, which gives Russia a port on the Mediterranean Sea, and Russia’s lack of other Middle East allies.
But is that accurate? Russia’s alignment with Assad has been very costly — both financially, as other Arab countries cancel Russian contracts, and, diplomatically, chilling relations with Sunni-majority countries in the Middle East.
Why is Putin backing Assad? Identity and power.
Here’s an alternative theory about the Putin-Assad alliance: identity. In bolstering Assad, the Kremlin’s escalated involvement in Syria is attempting to uphold two main principles central to Russia’s international identity.
The first principle is national sovereignty. Russia wants to prevent the United States from breaching Syrian sovereignty by toppling what it regards as Syria’s legitimate government. Putin regards the Assad regime as legitimate, because it still represents Syria in the United Nations and was elected, albeit in a seriously un-free manner.
The second principle is multilateralism. Russia wants to increase its soft power by building a coalition of European and Middle Eastern countries to vanquish the Islamic State by militarily strengthening Assad.
I’ll explore each of these below.
Russia to the U.S.: Who runs this country is none of your business. 
Russia regards any attempt to remove Assad as …Read More

Powered by WPeMatico