Moscow rally against Russia’s Syria strikes falls short

Only 150 people join protest in Russian capital against country’s military involvement in Syrian conflict.

An antiwar rally in Moscow
Russia carried out its first air strikes in Syria on September 30, targeting ISIL and 'other terrorist groups' [Maxim Shipenkov/EPA]

Only 150 people have turned up at a demonstration against Russian military involvement in the Syrian war that was sanctioned to gather 300 protesters in Moscow.

The rally that was organised on Saturday by two independent movements, Solidarity and Party of December 5, came after an opinion poll suggested that a large majority of Russians support Moscow’s decision to launch air strikes in Syria.

In the survey conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center on October 3 and 4 in 46 Russian towns, 66 percent of respondents said they fully or conditionally support the decision to use Russian air force in Syria.

Only about 27 percent conditionally or absolutely disapprove of the involvement, according to the poll. 

“While the appetite for deploying troops in Syria is low, Russians are increasingly looking to such displays of military might as a substitute for their country’s economic ills and ostracism in the West,”  Peter Zalmayev, a Russian affairs expert and director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative in New York, told Al Jazeera.

Zalmayev said the mood could change, however, if Russia sends ground troops to Syria.


“If that happens and coffins of Russian soldiers, including young conscripts, begin to arrive, Russians will be reminded of the Soviet fiasco in Afghanistan. Their support for further adventurism in the Middle East – especially if the economy doesn’t pick up – will wane,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Dmitry Babich, a political analyst in Moscow, said the Russian public support for President Vladimir Putin’s decision to deploy air support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was influenced by the violence demonstrated by various rebel groups in Syria, leaving “little hope for the ‘moderate’ character of the Syrian opposition”.

“The fact that many terrorists of the so called Islamic State stem from the former Soviet Union also made Russians sympathise with anyone fighting these individuals. A lot of ISIL’s ‘post-Soviet’ volunteers left bloody traces not only in Chechnya, but also in Russian cities – Moscow, Volgodonsk, Budyonnovsk,” Babich told Al Jazeera.

He said the security threat and a belief that the US is standing behind ISIL isolated “the few opponents” of Russia’s actions in Syria, leaving only “the most die-hard liberal haters of Mr Putin and the few open Islamists”.

Russia carried out its first air strikes in Syria on September 30, saying ISIL and “other terrorist groups” were the targets.

The air campaign has come under fierce criticism from Western powers that say the strikes are hitting rebel groups opposed to Assad rather than ISIL.

Syrian opposition activists say dozens of civilians have been killed in the strikes.

Follow Tamila Varshalomidze on Twitter: @tamila87v

Source: Al Jazeera


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