Syria’s Russian Keys

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov has just criticised the U.N.’s latest draft resolution on Syria as incapable of achieving a compromise, and says that any attempt to push it ‘is a path to civil war‘.  Russia is now Syria’s last ally in the Arab world, and its support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is not merely completely transparent (insofar as Russia stands to hit a record defense export year thanks to pending arms contracts with Syria worth up to $6 billion) – it’s also due to a long history of cooperation dating back to the Soviet Union, access to the deep warm-water port of Tartus, and through it, the key to Moscow’s long-term defence strategies.  The New York Times reports:

The lack of such a port has plagued Russia’s global ambitions for centuries and is said to be one reason behind its invasion of Afghanistan.

The importance of the port may not be as great as it was in Soviet times, but unfettered access to the high seas remains a driving force for Russian strategic thinking as Russia’s main ports are either ice-locked for much of the year or land-locked by straits controlled by other powers.

Tartus, which garrisons Moscow’s growing Mediterranean fleet, is worth defending for the Kremlin. The recent shipment of arms delivered to the port underscored Russia’s commitment to its multibillion-dollar arms deal while ignoring an E.U. arms embargo. The port is being upgraded to accommodate larger vessels, as Assad declared the port will eventually be home to some of Moscow’s nuclear-armed warships.