“… The conclusions drawn by Putin from the situation surrounding Iraq were concerned less with Russian-American relations, and more with general idea of how the world works in the twenty-first century. The strong do what they want: they don’t contemplate international law, global reality or the costs incurred by themselves and others. The only rational way of behaving in such a world is to increase one’s own power and capabilities, so that one can fight back and exert pressure, if necessary. Consolidation of potential — in every sense — is the secret of success. One may consider it a coincidence that the case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the owner of Russia’s largest oil company, Yukos, began immediately after the American intervention in Iraq. There were plenty of clear internal motives, but the external context was conducive to the case. Putin believed that the time had come to take all strategic assets under state control and prevent encroachment by global competitors. (The idea that the Iraq war was waged over oil is commonly accepted in Russia.)In the 10 years since the Iraq war, Putin’s worldview has only strengthened and expanded. Now he believes that the strong not only do what they want, but also fail to understand what they do. From Russian leadership’s point of view, the Iraq War now looks like the beginning of the accelerated destruction of regional and global stability, undermining the last principles of sustainable world order. Everything that’s happened since — including flirting with Islamists during the Arab Spring, U.S. policies in Libya and its current policies in Syria — serve as evidence of strategic insanity that has taken over the last remaining superpower.
Russia’s persistence on the Syrian issue is the product of this perception. The issue is not sympathy for Syria’s dictator, nor commercial interests, nor naval bases in Tartus. Moscow is certain that if continued crushing of secular authoritarian regimes is allowed because America and the West support “democracy,” it will lead to such destabilization that will overwhelm all, including Russia. It’s therefore necessary for Russia to resist, especially as the West and the United States themselves experience increasing doubts.
Another lesson that Russia has learned from the events in Iraq is that nothing is irreversible in world politics. In the spring of 2003, when Baghdad crowds were smashing monuments to Saddam Hussein, it seemed that the era of relations between Russia and Iraq would end forever, and that Russian companies would be thrown out of the market — especially since the Americans wouldn’t have invaded one of the Middle East’s most oil-rich countries only to share this trophy with someone else. instead, Iraq today is run by a government which is by no means pro-American, and Russia is discussing major deals for the sale of weapons and for return of Russian oil companies.…”