Russian Interests in the Syrian War

Earlier today I circulated Moon of Alabama’s article discussing the strategic interests of various forces engaged in the fierce battle around Aleppo.   I thought it was interesting to show the nature of the war, something US news avoids doing by focusing on a one sided picture of the devastation shown through iconic images endlessly repeated across various sources and across time and rarely supported by relevant contextual information.  The article i shared is:

The Larger Context Of The Jihadi Attack On Aleppo

which provides a lot of contextual detail in describing the fierce Al Nusra (Al Qaeda) reaction to loosing control of their base in Easter Aleppo.   In my initial comment I said,

Not surprisingly, the forces of hell have arisen in the face of the significant and hard won victory by the SAA in Aleppo.   “Peace, you want?  Hell No!   Not on our watch!”     Time for the Russians and the Iranians to stand up.

On the next iteration, I wrote:

( Beware, turbulent waters below.   War is ugly.)

There are 2 schools of thought about what is happening in Syria.   One is that somehow this vicious war on the Syrian State and the Syrian people is being fought to save the Syrian people from some demonic force, to free them from oppression, and the organizationally fragmented extremist jihadi fighters who are driving it and their sponsors in Qatar and Saudi Arabia will somehow make an idyllic populist democracy there – if they suffer from poor taste that isn’t our problem.

The other is that the United States in her allies are attempting to destroy the last secular republic in the Middle East because popular governance is inconvenient,  and they will persevere at any cost to do so.    We need to look at the realities because the Syrian Arab Republic, however imperfect, is just that, the last secular republic in the Middle East with functioning (albeit weakened) public utilities and resources, and a government and military populated by people of all sects, regions and ethnicities across the country including a reasonable proportion of women.   Furthermore, Russia and Iran are on the sidelines giving more or less support and weighing the risks of a bold confrontation with the United States.  No sane person wants to trigger another world war.   How far should they let this go?

While the Mainstream media is bleeding over endlessly looped  one sided stories of the misery of war and analysis that ignores the behavior of what are essentially occupying forces in many towns and cities of Syria, this is what is really going on in this war – right now.   As Americans, is this what we want our country to be doing?

A friend responded to this message noting that Syria had a port in Tartus asking asking:me to talk a little more about Russia’s interest in the region.   My reply was as follows:

You have asked a very good question.  I have been studying these issues for a long time and sometimes forget to clarify all remarks.   First, I just want to mention that I wrote all the introductory comments below, but not the article itself.   I did send out two prior mailings which give some degree of context to my thoughts.   The article below talks about a war and the strategic connections of a lot of different players.   My point was that it does not fall out like a civil war, as we have been told in this country.   In fact there are major players on the world scene involved in this terrible war taking place in a small, stubbornly independent country.

The Russians are by no means on the sidelines.   However, they are not driving the war.   They did have a small base on the Mediterranean in Tartus, and there are many Russians who have married Syrian women and settled, living in that area.   The base gives Russia a port on the Mediterranean.   There are no nukes in Tartus, and up until recently, only small numbers  of military personnel there at any moment.   The base has served a strategic and defensive purpose for them.

Russia has a number of reasons to take the war against Syria very seriously.   There was international support for the war Chechnya which caused much division and suffering in Russia.    Mr. Putin was able to bring that war to a close through a variety of  military and reconciliation techniques.   Although the current Governor in Chechnya is very popular and a man of peace, there are still some remnants of the militias that tore the area apart.  Russia does not want to see them honing their skills in Syria and returning to tear the country apart once again.  They believe that well funded terrorists are a serious risk to peace and stability around the globe.

Up until a year ago, the support Russia was providing to Syria consisted of military advisers, weapons (mostly ones that had already been ordered by the Syrians to update their defensive arsenal) and a significant level of diplomatic support.   Last winter, Russia built an airbase in western Syria and brought up some missile bearing ships near their base in Tartus.   For several months they actively and vigorously supported the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in driving back the militant extremists and mercenaries that largely compose the ‘opposition’ in Syria.   When the ceasefire was initiated this spring, the Russians not only stood down most of their direct military support, but they removed a lot of personnel back to Russia.   However, they do have a missile shield in place over Syria.   That is the purpose of the offshore ships.

During it’s active role in the fighting Russia confronted obvious problems that the US had somehow missed.  For instance, they used their air power to destroy convoys carrying ISIS oil to Turkey for sale, and used their media to publicize images of these convoys and embarrass the US in the international context.   They have targeted the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria (Jabhat al Nusra) and anyone who is fighting with them, as well as ISIS.

You can talk about ‘Russian aggression’ but then you miss the point that Syria is being destroyed by mercenary soldiers and religious extremists who are fighting a vicious war there, not only against the military, but against anyone who does not bow to their will.     By focusing on ‘Russian aggression’ you miss the point that the Middle East is being torn apart in a way that no sane person would find acceptable.   By focusing on ‘Russian aggression’ you miss the fact that no country can be entirely separated from the world.   By talking about ‘Russian aggression’ and ‘the Demon Assad’ you make it impossible to have a discussion based on the reality that some of those directly involved in this war might be taking a strategic stand based on the value of a peaceful world and even a principled stand on behalf of an embattled people.

I believe that war is not the way, but Americans seem to think that somehow the war in Syria is not an American war.   Because Americans are not dying in Syria we are not in it, but the mercenaries and extremists are fighting with American weapons and being paid salaries by US allies,  Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.     Russia and Iran do have their own interests as the article below points out.    One would think that chaos and destruction is not in anyone’s interest.  And yet, the US supports forces that can only lead to chaos and destruction.

It is not a crime to have interests.   However it is a crime to demand that everyone everywhere kneel before your interests.   None of us has that right to do to another.    What is the US interest in Syria?  Domination.   Russia just wants one of their partners or affiliates to remain viable.   Russia has never dominated Syria or made any attempt to do so.   That is the US stance.   Domination or death.    Russia has made no attempt to force any changes in the Syrian government while the US initially demanded to choose the government for the Syrians, and then passed off that responsibility to Saudi Arabia – like they know anything about democracy.

Syria has remained independent for many  years and even the Soviet Union never did more than have a peripheral base there.    On the other hand, France and Great Britain divided Syria after World War 1 and gave it a king from, guess where? Arabia.    Since Syria became an independent Republic, the west has sanctioned them and supported coups and looked the other way when Israel – in violation of International Law – stole the Golan from them.   Now US policy makers want to take a secular republic and put a foreign power in control through proxies from a small fanatical minority.   Of course many others have been sucked in by the violence, but that is the bottom line.

Syria, the state, has a right to self defense.  Much of what we hear in the US media is lies and distortion.    Of course the suffering of the people is horrific.   Russia is contributing militarily and I don’t think that there is any military force that can 100% avoid civilian casualties.   However, because Russia is working together with the Syrian military, they have real intelligence about who is where and what is what on the ground.   The US refuses to speak to the Syrians so they have NO IMMEDIATE INTELLIGENCE.   Every shot is from afar, even when it isn’t physically remote.

Yes, the Russians have their interests in this fight.  However, their most pressing interest is to see an end to the war.   At the same time, they are not ready to risk driving the war to the next level.   Their actions last winter were on behalf of the US stated objective – ‘defeat the terrorists’.    But of course that was not the US true objective.

So, dear Dwain, I hope this helps to clarify a little about the Russian’s interests in this war.  I sent this article mostly to make the point that the US is putting a lot of pressure but many regional countries have an interest in this situation but that does not mean necessarily that it is an irresponsible interest or one based on aggression.   If the town bully beats on your neighbor who happens to be your dentist or the manager of your local grocery- you  have an interest.    But that interest isn’t necessarily aggression.    We should all have a human interest, but Americans have lost their faith.  Worse, there seems to be an attitude that only we understand human interests – far from the truth.

I will be saying more in the future but I haven’t even had time to get on my blog.    I hope those of us who love peace and who love justice will understand that Syria’s battle for survival has become a pivotal reality.   Did I say this before?  We are on the brink of a Third World War with Nukes.   For Russia (and China) this is a tricky moment.  They do not want a Third World War.  Both countries suffered horribly because much of the Second World War took place in their land, in their cities and at the expense of their civilian populations.   They don’t want that to happen again.   At the same time, they are facing a relentless force that demands they give up all interests and has destroyed one country after another over the last decade.   Should they allow this to continue?  Can they stop it?  Is military force the right tool?  What leverage do they have against a wealthy, arrogant, heavily militarized adversary.


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