Russia, Syria and Iran

Russia, Syria and Iran

It’s a high-stakes poker game over the future of Bashar Assad.


The bomb-Syria crowd (neocons, John McCain, et al., backed by liberal interventionists such as the appropriately named Anne-Marie Slaughter) might be given pause by the fact Syria is still a military ally of Russia.

And it doesn’t matter that Mitt Romney, the foreign policy know-nothing who calls Russia America’s chief geopolitical foe and danger, might be worried about Moscow, too. Launching a premeditated military attack, unprovoked, on a Russian military ally might indeed turn Russia into a deadly foe. At the very least, it could strengthen the hands of hawks in Russia who, like Vladimir Putin, weren’t happy about NATO’s double game in Libya.

Even the New York Times today reminds us that Russia and Syria have military links, with an article about Russia’s only naval base worldwide in Tartus, Syria:

The site, at the port of Tartus, is little more than a pier, fuel tanks and some barracks. But it is the last Russian military base outside the former Soviet Union, and its only Mediterranean fueling spot, sparing Russia’s warships the trip back to their Black Sea bases through straits in Turkey, a NATO member.

And it cites reports that Russian ships might be planning to pay Syria a visit:

On Monday, the news agency Interfax cited an unnamed officer identified as a member of the Navy General Staff as saying two landing craft—the Nikolai Filchenkov and Cesar Kunikov, based in Sevastopol—and an oceangoing tugboat were prepared for an extended mission to Syria.

Yesterday, President Obama met with Putin in Mexico, with Syria and Iran topping the agenda. On Syria, at least, they didn’t make much progress:

But after two full hours together, Mr. Putin was still balking, appearing afterward with Mr. Obama before reporters in a grim tableau that seemed to bespeak the frustration on both sides.

The Times notes that Putin doesn’t believe Obama when he says that the United States isn’t trying to weaken Russian influence in the Middle East. Duh.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Fars News Agency reports a startling rumor:

The Iranian, Russian, Chinese and Syrian armies are due to stage joint amphibious exercises along the Syrian costs in coming weeks, informed sources revealed on Monday.

According to informed sources, 90,000 forces from the four countries will take part in the land and sea wargames due to be held in Syria.

Ground, air and sea forces as well as air defense and missile units of the four countries will take part in the exercises.

Sources also said that Egypt has acceded to grant passage to 12 Chinese warships to sail through the Suez Canal, adding that the military convoy is due to dock at the Syrian harbors in the next two weeks.

Russian atomic submarines and warships, aircraft carriers and mine-clearing destroyers as well as Iranian battleships and submarines will also arrive in Syria at around the same date.

This may be wishful thinking on Iran’s part, but it does underline that the stakes are high.

The United States has been trying to keep Iran out of any talks on a political solution in Syria, a stupid and self-defeating notion. Unless the real plan is, in fact, to weaken Russia’s influence and undermine Iran. Oh. Right.

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