The Merchant Ship Alaed, was stopped about fifty miles off the Northern coast of Scotland in the Morning hours of June 19th. Her cargo was a number of refurbished Mi-24 helicopter gunships which were embarked in the Kaliningrad Oblast of the Russian Federation, bound for the Syrian Port of Tartus. The Ship’s insurance company known as “The Standard Club” had suspended the ship’s insurance coverage preventing her from docking or mooring in any reputable port. In effect, the transaction was halted. But the temporary halt to a contentious arms transfer begs an examination of the motives of those involved, and raises questions of the US response to the entire situation especially in view of recent news of Russian Warships preparing to sail to the Syrian Port of Tartus.
Daily, news reaches US television and print about the dire situation in Syria where a minority-run government is fighting a brutal counter insurrection against its own people. The regime has observed few taboos of war in putting down the civil strife, including the use of artillery and airstrikes in dense urban areas. The methods and ammunition in question are inaccurate and result in heavy collateral damage. Hence, the nature of this effort could not reasonably be construed as measured or surgical; it is campaign to pacify by terror through the indiscriminate use of lethal force.
Moral clarity would demand that this is a compelling case for intervention by western powers. Things quickly get complicated on examining the world politics of the Syrian Situation. Syria remains the only dedicated friend to two players in the region who are under siege. Iran is the primary benefactor of the Assad regime and is rightly singled out for being so. Iran needs to maintain a friendly umbilical cord to their lackeys in neighboring Lebanon known to most as the terrorist group Hezbollah. Support for Hezbollah is critical to maintaining Iranian standing among anti-American political forces in the region. Further, one need not look beyond a map of the Middle East to see that, in the long time rivalry between Iraq and Iran, Syria would make a steadily modernizing military like Iraq think twice about any sudden aggression with hostile neighbors to the east and the west. Hence a warm relationship with Syria provides leverage for an increasingly isolated Iran.
But as a key player, Russia too has a great deal to lose and significantly more resources to be made available to the Assad regime. Many pundits of Middle East politics observe that the Assad regime is the only friend left for Russia in the region. Syria hosts a Russian radar base which, according to a February 29th article in the Washington Times, underwent significant upgrades. Similarly, the Port of Tartus hosts a Russian Naval contingent which hosts occasional show of force visits by the Russian Navy. The significance of these installations in Syria cannot be understated.
The Russian government seeks to gain much information on the operations of NATO along its southern tier. NATO air bases in Turkey are a hub of logistical activity for forces flowing into Central Asia and the Middle East. The ability to gain real-time information on the size and scope of air activity there, as well as the deployments of US aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, would be a valuable tool to understanding NATO operations and therefore intentions.
In view of the discovery of a potential energy/political game changer, it makes eminent sense for the Russian government to attempt to preserve its position with respect to port access so close to the new natural gas field. Although a number of other matters factor into their relationship, this is a key driver for Russian support of the Assad regime.
Full article: Crackdown in Syria, and the Roads that Lead to Moscow (Family Security Matters)