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As part of the United Nations General Assembly this week, U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agenda for the two leaders, who are on extremely tense terms, includes the Syrian civil war and Ukraine. Coming to an agreement on what to do in Syria could prove very challenging, though, as both countries have drastically different relationships with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Syria is one of Russia's strongest allies in the Middle East, where Russian support has drastically diminished over recent years. The close relationship goes way back to the early 20th century, when Arab countries began declaring their independence and anti-Western sentiment started becoming stronger and stronger. Syria resented the establishment of Israel in 1948, a move that pushed Syria farther away from the West and closer to the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union gave Syria more than $200 million in military aid, paving the way for greater Syrian influence and foreign trade.
Fast forward to today and Russia is still standing firm alongside Assad's regime. In 2012, Russia (along with China) used its veto vote on the UN Security Council to block sanctions against Syria for human rights abuses. Russia seems set on maintaining its core Middle East ally. At the same time, the turmoil in Syria shows no signs of improving. Given that, some foreign policy experts are speculating that U.S. and other Western powers will have to soften their "Assad must go" approach if they hope to truly bring the civil war to an end.
Intelligence Report: Soviet Military Aid to the United Arab Republic, 1955-66 (foia.cia.gov)
"Since the Western monopoly of arms supply to the Middle East ended in 1955, the USSR has extended to the United Arab Republic (UAR) military equipment worth $1.16 billion at Soviet list prices - more than 60 percent of it as grants and the remainder on easy credit terms."
Who Are Syria's Friends And Why Are They Supporting Assad? (npr.org)
"While much of the world is lining up against Syria, the country is not entirely friendless, and it's hoping its allies can provide at least some cover in the confrontation over its apparent use of chemical weapons."
Friction at the U.N. as Russia and China Veto Another Resolution on Syria Sanctions (nytimes.com)
"Diplomatic efforts at the United Nations Security Council to address the Syria crisis suffered a potentially fatal blow on Thursday when Russia and China vetoed a British-sponsored resolution that would have punished the Syrian government with economic sanctions for failing to carry out a peace plan."