Russia is solidifying its presence in the Middle East. And do not be fooled, Russia does not venture out and build bases just to break them down and return home.
Contrary to statements made in the past by Russian leadership, the Kremlin is digging in and setting up for the long haul in the Middle East — and they have selected Syria as their default headquarters.
Russia is in the Middle East to protect not only their military interests, but also, and just as importantly, to supervise their expanding economic interests. Especially their burgeoning arms trade and oil empire.
The Russians are in the Middle East expanding trade options and protecting their oil interests. And from their perch in Syria, they can hear and see and monitor up close the movements of the United States in the region. There is nothing more important to Russian foreign policy interests than understanding and then dashing U.S. interests.
Syria, in and of itself, is not a Russia foreign policy priority. It is important to understand that distinction. Syria is simply a vehicle to achieve Russia's real objectives. Russia is, for all diplomatic purposes, "using" Syria. And Syria has no objection.
When he most needed help, when it appeared as if he was about to be toppled and perhaps beheaded, Syrian President Bashar Assad was propped by up Russia. And ever since, with their help, he has been going strong.
The Russians came in to Syria "temporarily" in September 2015 and helped change the tide of the civil war, thereby securing Assad's leadership and his future. Four years later it is difficult to imagine any scenario in which Assad would be replaced. And it is just as difficult to imagine a situation that would result in Russia uprooting its air force bases or military sea port in Syria.
Russia actually signed 49-year leases with the government of Syria.
They signed for the land on which they built their bases in Tatrus and Hmeimim and they signed for their naval port in Tartus. These long term leases alone are all the proof you need that that Russia is there to stay. The bases are outfitted with Russian bakeries and trees were planted for shade. They built parks for recreation. And they built huge sports gyms, even dry saunas known as bonyas. The Russians have made themselves perfectly at home on Syrian soil — without integrating into Syrian society.
From their Syrian vantage point, Russia can watch the entire region. They can listen in real time. They can reach almost anywhere in seconds. They are in the position to know what is happening. And with that information and from that position they can engage in one of their favorite sports. Russia can challenge the United States.
And that is exactly what they are doing. Russia has entered the fracas surrounding the bombing of Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure. If the United States says "day," Russia says "night." If the United States says "yes," Russia says "nyet." And because the United States has pointed their finger and put the blame on Iran for bombing the Saudi oil infrastructure and sending the oil and energy world into a spin, the Russians are defending Iran.
President Putin of Russia has proclaimed that Iran is not responsible for the bombing of Saudi oil infrastructure fields and refineries. He has asserted that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani personally assured him that Iran had nothing to do with the bombing.
The conversation between Russia and Iran took place at the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Yerevan, Armenia, on Tuesday, October 1, 2019. And then Putin came out with this statement: "We condemn these (attacks) but we are against shifting the blame to Iran because there is no proof of that.” He then went on to say that the United States has provided no proof that the missiles and the drones were launched by Iran.
Putin has accomplished one of his goals. He has put the United States and Saudi Arabia in the middle of a Catch-22 situation. How can they retaliate against Iran, when Russia strongly and publicly asserts that Iran was not the responsible party?
Russia has successfully — even if only temporarily — given Iran a reprieve.
The United States has been hesitant and biding time before initiating a retaliatory attack against Iran. Now it is very unlikely that they will directly strike Iran at all. At best, they will assist the Saudis should they attack.
Russia successfully checked the United States. And Russia, once again, signaled its position of dominance in the Middle East.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.
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