As the Arab 'Spring' continues to devolve into an Islamist winter for Moscow and the U.S., both find themselves increasingly on the horns of multiple dilemmas. Russia's dilemma is rooted in its previously forced bet in favor of the Islamic world's Shiite populations over the Sunnis––which has been anchored in Russia’s trading partner and periodic support for Iran, a Shia nation. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, this bet was staked out just as a wave of revolutionary Sunni Islamism/Jihadism was rising across the ummah (Arabic for “nation” or “community,” but not necessarily a common ancestry or geography).
Nowhere is this dilemma better demonstrated than in Syria, where Moscow has been lending diplomatic support to Iran's chief ally, the minority Alawite (Shia) regime of Bashar al-Assad.
A geostrategic calculus also influences Russia’s reticence about the downfall of the Assad regime. Syria has been Russia’s chief ally and weapons buyer in the Middle East for decades––and in addition provides the only warm water port in the region for the Russian Navy. Unfortunately for Moscow, which initially hoped the Syrian crisis could be resolved through negotiations or restabilization, the Assad regime appears to be doomed––and any new regime coming next is likely to seek revenge, especially if it is an Islamist one (which most likely it will be). This means the next leadership could be worse than the former.