Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

The Meaning of Russia's Campaign in Syria

  • Stephen R. Covington
| December 9, 2015
The views expressed in this paper are those of the author alone and should not be interpreted as representing the official views of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.


Russia’s actions in Syria are designed to do more than prop up a teetering Assad regime and reassert Russian influence in the Middle East through the use of military power. Russia’s President Putin is preserving the outposts of Russia’s power, having learned the lesson from Mikhail Gorbachev, the last of the Soviet Cold War leaders, who did not defend or support the Soviet Union’s allies during its transition, and ultimately lost them and his country. Putin is also opportunistically using Syria to double down in a broader, self-driven competition with Western powers. Putin is challenging Western countries that uphold a security system Russia sees as serving predominantly and disproportionately the interests of the U.S., and one Putin believes exists at the expense of Russia’s security, and threatens Russia’s future as a great, strategically competitive power. President Putin’s aim is to create a new security system that ultimately places limits on Western institutions and US power in the 21st century, in particular, reducing the US role in key regional security arrangements and the global security system as a whole.

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For Academic Citation:

Covington, Stephen R., with Foreword by Kevin Ryan. "The Meaning of Russia's Campaign in Syria." Paper, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, December 9, 2015.

The Author