How does Russia see its role in the Middle East?
Updated 20:27, 30-Nov-2019
Ross Cullen

Russia has been fighting in the current civil war in Syria since 2015. But it's not the country's first foray into the region.

Russian troops were also involved in the 1980s when the Middle East was in turmoil after Israel's invasion into Lebanon.

Sergey Timokhin, a veteran from those campaigns, believes Moscow has a justified role to play.

"The veterans from Syria campaigns from 30 years ago see the work of the current Russian soldiers in Syria as exceptional, as outstanding," he argued. "Regarding the ongoing campaign, if Russia hadn't intervened, the Syrian state would have ceased to exist."

The Kremlin is supporting its long-standing allies, the Assad family and the government, in Damascus.

But Moscow has not made winning popular approval for the war a priority.

Tatiana, a 37-year-old shopkeeper, said the war in Syria is "not cost-effective, so much money has been spent on it when our own population is in need. We should probably support countries like Syria but we can't pull it off."

"Russia is bearing unnecessary expenses with the Syrian campaign. As usual, wars are about oil and money. Better to spend all that money on pensioners," said Dmitry, a 25-year-old engineer.

However, Russia's objective has been made clear by its foreign ministry: it wants to see all the territory that comprised Syria at the outbreak of war in 2011 return to Damascus.

And through the Syrian campaign, Vladimir Putin has outmanoeuvred the U.S. to become the major power broker in the region - being able to speak to Syria, Iran, Turkey, the Kurdish community and  so on.

So as the U.S. role in the region diminishes, is Moscow ready to step up to lead?

Andrey Kortunov, director-general of the Russian International Affairs Council, is not sure.

"I don't think Russia can replace the United States. It doesn't have the financial capability to become the security provider of the region and doesn't have the economic tools that the U.S. does. So, I don't think Russia is ready or willing to do that."

Russia is wary of the lessons from the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan in the 1980s when more than 14,000 Russian troops were killed and billions of dollars were spent.

Despite the uncertainty and instability in the region, Russian President Vladimir Putin is convinced of the positive role for his country in Syria.

(Cover image: A Russian commander (L) and a member of PKK, Servan Dervish (R), exchange Russian flag and an organization flag after Russian soldiers entered the base at the Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates, which the U.S. troops' withdrew from, located 90 kilometers east of Aleppo in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, November 18, 2019.)