Syria is cutting diplomatic relations with Ukraine, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad announced on Wednesday.
The aggressive diplomatic move by Damascus is widely seen as a Syrian display of support for its close ally Russia.
“The Syrian Arab Republic has decided to break diplomatic relations with Ukraine in conformity with the principle of reciprocity and in response to the decision of the Ukrainian government,” reported the Syrian news agency SANA. The report is based on a quote from an unnamed official affiliated with the country’s foreign affairs ministry.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced in June that Ukraine would cut its ties with Syria after the Assad regime’s recognition of the breakaway “independent republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk in the eastern part of Ukraine, in effect founded by Russia.
“There will no longer be relations between Ukraine and Syria,” Zelenskyy said angrily in a video message posted in June, adding that sanctions pressure against the Syrian regime “will be even greater.”
Syria became the first country after Russia to recognize these Ukrainian regions as standalone republics. In contrast, most of the world’s countries, including in the West, do not recognize Russia’s claims to any part of Ukraine, including the strategically important Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine.
It is not the first time that Syria has been involved in Moscow’s expansionist policies.
In 2018, the Syrian regime recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two Russian-backed regions in the nation of Georgia, as independent republics. The Georgian government in Tbilisi responded by cutting its diplomatic relations with Assad.
Syria’s diplomatic moves are linked closely to Assad’s heavy reliance on Moscow’s support.
In 2015, Moscow sent military forces to Syria in support of the embattled Assad regime. Pundits agree that the regime’s continued survival is tied closely to Russia’s backing and loosely to Iranian support.
The close relations between Russia and Syria predate Putin and Assad. Syria was a close pro-Soviet client state during the Cold War and received large amounts of Russian-manufactured arms, up until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
While the Syrian regime officially backs Russia, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has produced a growing food crisis in Syria and in other Middle Eastern states that rely on Ukrainian grain imports.
In March 2022, the aid organization Oxfam International reported growing hunger in Syria as a consequence to the Ukraine crisis.
Moutaz Adham, country director for Oxfam in Syria, said that the Ukraine crisis exacerbated Syria’s food-shortage which had existed prior to the Russian invasion.
“Syria relies heavily on Russia for imports of wheat. The crisis in Ukraine has seen the Syrian government starting to ration food reserves, including wheat, sugar, oil and rice amid fears of shortages and price surges, and this could be just the beginning,” Adham said.
While the Ukrainian civilian population has suffered immensely due to Russian military aggression, Russia simultaneously has pushed a man-made food crisis on much of the world by undermining Ukraine’s position as a leading global grains exporter.
Moscow’s goal for the artificial food crisis is to pressure the Western world to lift its crippling sanctions on the Russian economy. The Russian move has had a particularly negative effect on Syria and other developing nations in the Middle East and Africa.
At the same time, Russia has used the global food crisis as a tool to strengthen its influence on client states like Syria.
Russian authorities reportedly are making profits by stealing vast amounts of Ukrainian grain and selling it to countries like Syria. In June, stolen Ukrainian grains were reportedly shipped from the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine to the Syrian port Latakia.