Blood, gas, and the big picture
President Vladimir Putin wants the world to know that Russia is back. He wants the world to recognize that Russia is a global power that is to be treated with respect. Most of all, he wants a victory
It is the last remnant remaining from the days of the Soviet Empire. We are speaking about the Russian naval port at Tardus in Syria that the Soviet Union acquired in 1971.
At the time, it was a minor port that provided a delivery point for weapon sales to Syria. With their ships welcomed in Algeria, Cuba or Vietnam, Tardus was too insignificant to be developed.
The base had little strategic value when the Soviet Union was one of the superpowers. Afterwards, Russia lacked the funds to spend on the base or a reason to develop it.
Losing its broad relationship with Libya in the last year has given Tardus a new importance. Russia failed to veto the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, the no-fly zone over Libya, and saw the authorization turned into a free-fire zone for NATO that broke the regime and cost Russia its 10 billion dollar investment in Libya.
That was another humiliating defeat; and something that Putin will not allow to happen again while he is president. Since his time as an officer in the KGB, he has seen the Soviet Empire lose half of its population, a quarter of its land mass, and most of its global influence. He describes the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “geopolitical catastrophe.”
In spite of all of the pressure from Washington and elsewhere to have him persuade Bashar Al-Assad to relinquish power, Putin is staying loyal to the isolated regime, even though it has made Russia a pariah among the Arab states. He is calculating that Russia has little prestige to lose and can suffer the cost. What Russia could not afford to lose, and did, is the financial and political opportunity that its position in Syria was offering. Russia would have controlled the natural gas market across Europe and the means to shape events on the continent.
In July 2011, Iran, Iraq, and Syria agreed to build a gas pipeline from the South Pars gas field in Iran to Lebanon and across the Mediterranean to Europe. The pipeline that was to be managed by Gazprom was to carry 110 million cubic meters of gas. About a quarter of the gas would be consumed by the transit countries, leaving sixty or seventy million cubic meters to be sold to Europe.
It was to compete with the Nabucco pipeline that was to bring gas from Central Asia through Turkey to Europe, until Russia blocked the supply of gas. Over the last year, the Syrian civil war has ended any hope that the Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian pipeline will be built.
With everything lost, the Russians can afford to hang on a little longer and wait for their fortunes to improve. One solution is for the Russians to have Assad withdraw to the traditional Alawite coastal enclave. His one hundred and thirty thousand heavily armed troops would be able to defend indefinitely a twenty-five mile long frontier against the opposition. The four or five million Alawites, Christians, and Druze would have agricultural land, water, a deep water port and an international airport.
Very importantly, they would have a natural gas offshore field that has not been developed yet. The Alawite Republic could be energy self-sufficient and even an exporter. It wouldn’t be the prize of the Iran-Iraq-Syria Pipeline, but the Russian Navy could keep its port and Gazprom would have a piece of the action.
While the country burns, Putin has the luxury of being able to do nothing. Every day, the number of refugees fleeing to Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon increases. They carry with them instability that is spreading the violence into the neighboring territories. It won’t be long before Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and even Iraq are desperate to end the madness; and will come begging.
No one, though, should expect mercy from Moscow. President Vladimir Putin blames the United States and its Arab, European and Turkish allies for the chaos in Syria. He is convinced that behind all of the rhetoric about democracy and human rights is the plan to destroy Iran and to drive Russia from its last presence in the Mediterranean. That alone is good reason for him to make Washington and its allies pay.
President Vladimir Putin wants the world to know that Russia is back. He wants the world to recognize that Russia is a global power that is to be treated with respect. Most of all, he wants a victory.
Felix Imonti is a retired director of a private equity firm. He has written for Resource Investor, Current Intelligence, The Huffington Post, Diplomatic Courier, and the Oil Price
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