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No Cold War on account of Syria

Russia is opposed to military intervention in Syria. What does that mean for Russian-American relations? DW spoke with Margarete Klein of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

DW: Ms. Klein, Russia says that in supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad it is defending the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention. Would you agree?

Margarete Klein, Russland-Expertin bei der Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin Übetragung der Rechte dieses Bildes an DW-Online: Das Bild wurde der DW von Frau Klein zur Verfügung gestellt und darf frei verwendet werden.

Klein says the US and Russia are miles away from a new Cold War

Margarete Klein: I think there has been a lot of talk about Moscow pursuing economic or military interests in Syria. Syria is an important buyer of Russian weapons, and the Russians have a marine base in Tartus. But I believe that Russia's interest here is genuinely one of principle. It's about which principles of international law should have validity: in this case, non-intervention in the internal affairs of states, and that there should be no regime change from outside brought about by military means. Ultimately, it's Russia attempting to have a say in shaping the global order. I think what happened in Libya has really hardened Russia's stance.

In the Russian media Assad's opponents are described as "guerrillas" and "terrorists." To what extent is this actually the case?

I think we have to take a more differentiated view. There certainly are radical Islamists among them, but there are also moderate forces. The fact that the Russian side is trying to brand all the rebels as "terrorists" is, I think, more a strategy to justify its own actions and those of the Assad regime. As long as the situation in Syria is presented as a legitimate regime tackling "terrorists," its harsh approach to dealing with the rebels can be justified as a "war on terror."

Russia has had to learn from its own experiences in Chechnya that the longer a war goes on, the more that radical forces gain influence among the insurgents. Is delaying all forms of action against Assad and blocking them in the UN Security Council actually a conscious tactic on the part of Moscow?

I don't think it was a conscious strategy. I think they just accepted the risk. But I do believe that the developments also hold dangers for Russia, because there are thought to be several hundred Chechens fighting in Syria. When they come home - with more fighting experience, with international connections - the security situation in the northern Caucasus could also deteriorate for Russia.

Are you afraid there might be a revival of the Cold War between Moscow and Washington, and a proxy war in Syria?

No, not at all. The Cold War was a war of different political, social and economic systems, a real system conflict. We're miles away from that. What we have now are conflicts of interest between Russia and the United States. That's not a real system conflict. The relationship between Russia and the US is not very close and not very good at the moment. But we're miles away from talking about something like a Cold War. Those are labels people like to use because they immediately give them something to grasp. In terms of content, they're entirely inappropriate.

Margarete Klein is an expert with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, part of the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Research Division. Her areas of expertise are Russian foreign and security policy, Russian arms policy, and the relationship between Russia and NATO.

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