Why Russia Is Extremely Protective Of Syria

Photo: Original Photos: FreedomHouse, World Economic Forum / Flickr

Lately there’s been a lot made over Russia’s continuing support of the current Syrian Regime.They’ve gone to the plate for them at the U.N. Security Council. Russia has sold Syria an immense amount of munitions. Russia was going to ship more attack helicopters, until that shipment was cancelled this week. 

Our opinion is that — from a strategic perspective — Syria serves a similar role for Russia that Israel serves for the United States.

In that light, Russia’s current behaviour in Syria makes total sense. 

It goes without saying that Syria and Israel couldn’t be more different culturally. But from a tactical position, it’s easy to understand why Russia backs the Syrians so adamantly.

The Foreign Bases
Russia has its only Mediterranean naval base in Syria, in the port city of Tartus. The only remaining Soviet port on the Med — and the last Russian military base outside of the territories of the Soviet Union — the Russians have poured a fortune into the base, dredging it for years and establishing it as the site of their Mediterranean naval presence. Allegedly, it’s currently the site of multiple nuclear powered warships and subs. 

The United States has six war reserve stocks in Israel with some $300 million worth of military equipment stored there. Even more, the United States has the Dimona Radar Facility in Israel, located in the Negev desert. That site has two 400 foot, ballistic missile tracking radar towers. The facility can detect missiles 1,500 miles away, and also provides targeting info for interceptors. 

The Money
Russian exports to Syria in 2012 alone amounted to more than a billion dollars. Its investments in the nation amounted to nearly $20 billion in 2009. Russia has dumped a ton of money into Syria. Russian natural gas construction company Stroitransgaz has $1.1 billion in investments in Syria and a staff of more than 80 Russians working there. There is a huge vested interest in the Syrian economy for Moscow. 

The United States has a strong monetary relationship with Israel as well. Since the mid-eighties, Washington has given more than $3 billion in grants to Israel. The economies are somewhat close, and there is a substantial interplay between Israeli companies and U.S. businesses. 

The Guns
Russia is one of the major exporters of arms to Syria. Current contracts amount for more than $4 billion worth of arms deals to the Syrians. The price of owning the base in Tartus wasn’t cheap, and involved Russia cancelling billions of dollars worth of debt incurred by Syria during the Soviet era. Nearly all of Syria’s jet fighters, helicopters, and missile systems are Soviet or Russian made. 

Likewise, the United States is a huge weapons exporter to Israel. We’ve sold them the Terminal High Altitude Aerial defence system, which is one of the most sophisticated missile interceptor systems in the world. We provide nearly $3 billion per year to Israel in military aid each year. 

The Footholds
Either way you cut it, Israel is an American foothold in the Middle East. It’s a friendly coastal nation with a longstanding relationship with the United States, a powerful allied military, and an immense amount of American weapons. It’s a special relationship, and — were the excrement to hit the air conditioning — the U.S. has done everything it can to establish Israel as an American foothold in the Middle East.

That’s what Syria is for Russia. The base at Tartus has been described by Russian military officials as their “foothold” in the Mediterranean. They’re putting in guided missile cruisers, and perhaps aircraft carriers. The Russians are very close with the ruling Assad family, and Syria has been set up as their ally in the Middle East. Russian-Syrian relations are special. 

The Wildcards
Perhaps the most interesting similarity between Israel and Syria — philosophically, two extremely disparate nations — is their mutual devotion to leaving every single option open for national defence. 

Neither country has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. U.S. Congress Office of Technological Assessment has recorded that Israel is widely reported to have chemical and biological weapons programs, and Syria is known to have stockpiles of Sarin and other chemical weapons. 

They both have a mandatory civil service requirement. In both Damascus and Jerusalem, anyone who turns eighteen has to serve in some capacity in the military. 

Israel could very well have a nuke. That’s one of the most contentious questions in foreign policy at the moment. Syria, plausibly, wants nuclear weapons, but hasn’t got the material to do so. 

So essentially, each nation is willing to do what neither the U.S. nor Russia is capable of doing. Not only does each nation serve as an ally and a foothold, but each is willing to do whatever it takes to win, something that has tied the hands of the U.S. and Russia.

That kind of ally can’t hurt to have on your team, strategically. 

Check out what faces any country that intervenes in Syria >

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