In the New York Times today, Samuel Charap lets the U.S. see itself as others see it.
Many people in the Russian foreign-policy establishment believe that the string of U.S.-led interventions that resulted in regime change since the end of the Cold War — in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — are a threat to the stability of the international system and potentially to “regime stability” in Russia itself. Russia did not give its imprimatur to these interventions, and will never do so if it suspects the motive is removal of a sitting government.
The notion that Russia could eventually be the target of such an intervention might seem absurd in Washington, but suspicion of potential future U.S. intentions runs deep in Moscow. Therefore, Russia uses what power it has to shape the international system — particularly, its permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council — to avoid creating a dangerous precedent that could eventually be used against it.
In the case of Syria, Moscow cannot be convinced that U.S. motives are driven purely by the humanitarian calamity that Assad created. Instead, the Kremlin sees sinister geopolitics at play, with Washington moving to get rid of a government whose foreign policy long contradicted U.S. interests, particularly by aligning with Iran.
It is actually difficult for an independent observer not to conclude that this is in fact the case, at least for a sizeable portion of America’s “very serious” foreign policy set. Real men go to Tehran…via Damascus. Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe”. Missile defense should be aimed at countering a possible Russian strike. The US should use nukes to strike Iran on Israel’s behalf. These are all sentiments we’ve heard come out of the neocon Republican establishment in the last couple of years. Russian foreign policy thinkers read these neocon screeds and remember that the neocons run the foreign policy of a party that gets elected to run the U.S.A. They’re simply respecting the threat.