While Continuing to Back Damascus, Moscow Tries to Carry on with Ankara

Syria itself is a proxy country for the Soviet Union against the Western powers. If it can control countries in the Middle East, it can control the world’s oil flow. While not all of the world’s oil comes from the Middle East, it is taking advantage of the Western world’s naïveté in thinking it has to depend mostly on these countries for supplies, not its own vast reserves of domestic energy such as shale in Colorado or in Canada. Arms exporting, as noted within the article plays a huge role as well. Russia is ranked number four in the world under this category, and second in terms of export value. Nevertheless, here is The Jamestown Foundation on the strategic importance of both Syria and Turkey according to Russia:

Russia has been an unwavering supporter of President Bashar al-Assad and one of the prime suppliers of weapons to the Syrian military. Moreover, Russia and China have used their veto power in the UN Security Council to prevent sanctions and an arms embargo against Damascus. The Russian authorities reacted angrily to the plane’s interception. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the Turks of endangering the lives of the passengers, of not allowing Russian diplomats to meet the reported 17 Russian passport-holders on board while the plane was searched, and demanded explanations (Interfax, October 11).

The Russian arms trading monopoly Rosoboronexport declared it did not have any cargo on the Syrian Airbus, while the state agency overseeing Russia’s arms trade, the FSVTS (Federalnaya Sluzba po Voyenno-Tekhnycheskomy Sotrudnychestvy), announced it did not know anything. The Turkish authorities, in turn, did not produce any footage of the confiscated goods or the “munitions” alleged by Erdogan (RIA Novosti, October 12). The Russian press reported the intercepted plane carried electronic spare parts for Russian-made radar and anti-aircraft systems, used by the Syrian military. The KBP (Konstruktorskoye Buro Priborostroyenia), based in Tula south of Moscow, was specifically mentioned as a possible source of the confiscated cargo. The KBP has been supplying Pantsir 1S anti-aircraft systems to Syria as well as guided long-range Kornet anti-tank missiles (Kommersant, October 13).

Rosoboronexport prefers to trade big, organizing multi-billion-dollar deals to export large batches of jets, missiles, tanks, warships and submarines that bring in fat commissions. The arms trade monopoly is not interested in relatively small deals involving spares and is known to be a slow bureaucratic monstrosity, taking months or years to complete an export deal. The Syrian military, in the midst of a live war, needs a constant supply of spares and components to keep its more sophisticated Russian-supplied weapons functioning—its planes and helicopters flying, its radars working and its missiles constantly ready for action if, say, outside powers finally decide to impose a no-fly zone. The angry reaction to the confiscation implies it may have been a highly sensitive delivery. It is plausible that the KBP was involved (not Rosoboronexport) in the shady deal to send high-value military equipment by regular passenger plane. It is strange that the FSVTS, which handles export licensing, did not know about it. If true, the operation could have been fully carried out by the Russian security services. Reportedly, the Federal Security Service (FSB) is investigating a possible security leak that prompted the Turks to intercept the plane (Kommersant, October 12).

The Turkish press is reporting that the prompt to intercept the plane came from US sources. Russian sources agree the Turks could not have collected the precise intelligence on their own. In Moscow there is speculation that the United States may have intercepted electronic messages on the shipment, or a “traitor” in Moscow or Damascus could have been involved (RIA Novosti, October 12).

At the same time, Russian stakes in Turkey are extremely high at present—a deadline is looming to finalize the paperwork to begin the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline project before the EU’s Third Energy Package comes into effect early next year (see EDM, October 17). Turkish cooperation is essential, since the pipeline must go from Russia to Bulgaria through Turkish-controlled Black Sea waters. A visit by Putin to Turkey was planned for this week, but suddenly postponed until next month because of differences over Syria. Moreover, Erdogan was reportedly not ready to finally agree to allow the pipeline construction to begin (Vedomesti, October 11). The postponement of Putin’s visit was announced before the plane incident occurred, additionally straining relations. The deadline on South Stream is looming, and Erdogan’s agreement to begin laying the pipes is indispensable, thus decreasing the relative importance of the confiscation of a batch of electronic equipment bound for Syria.

Full article: While Continuing to Back Damascus, Moscow Tries to Carry on with Ankara (The Jamestown Foundation)

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