The Russian press has been playing up the gratitude of the Syrian people for Moscow’s staunch opposition to foreign intervention against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Demonstrators in Damascus and Aleppo sang Russia’s praises when Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared in Syria on Feb. 7, and Russian TV and newspapers showed delirious crowds waving Russian flags. Ten days later, Syrians in Moscow staged a rally where they shouted, “Thank you, Russia! Thank you, Putin!”
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has enjoyed playing the role of Syria’s protector and champion. But within the Russian community living in Damascus, the view is a bit darker.
“Our women are insulted out loud in some districts of Damascus,” Archimandrite Alexander, the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative there, told the Interfax news agency. “Sometimes taxi drivers deny a ride to Russian-speaking people. Even children can throw stones at people speaking the Russian language.”
There’s no doubt about where that attitude comes from.
“Russian citizens’ position in Syria deteriorated sharply after Russia vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria,” Alexander said. “The so-called liberation army and radical religious groups intimidate them, blame them for the Syrians’ and their children’s deaths, and want them to leave.”
Russian citizens who can are getting out. The Russian Embassy school has closed, and Russian workers on a natural gas development project have been evacuated. Russian diplomats want to curtail services at St. Ignatius Church because of security concerns, though it still ministers to Russian servicemen who are alone now that their families have left.
And Damascus, said the archimandrite, is about the safest place in Syria. It’s a lot worse outside the city.
In the following video posted to YouTube, angry Syrians take to the streets to protest Russians in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Many chant: “The people want to topple the regime.”