Trouble in Syria


As Syria’s Assad regime countinues to slaughter its own people (including the killing and torture of 256 children), it is fast turning into a standoff between Russia and the US in the region.

The Syrian crisis aassumed a big power dimension this week with the build-up of rival United States and Russia naval air carrier armadas in Syrian waters, debkafile’s military sources report.

The USS George H.W. Bush arrived Wednesday, Nov. 23, in the wake of the three Russian warships anchored earlier opposite Tartus which established a command post in the Syrian port. They will be augmented by Russia’s only air carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov, which is due in mid-week.

By deploying 70 ship-borne fighter-bombers plus three heavy guided missile cruisers and five guided missile destroyers opposite Syria, Washington has laid down military support for any intervention the Arab League in conjunction with Turkey may decide on.

Bashar Assad can see for himself that Washington has hoisted a nuclear aerial umbrella to protect its allies, Israel, Turkey, and Jordan, against the retaliation his armed forces high command pledged Friday for the deaths of six Syrian air force elite pilots in an ambush Thursday.

But why would Russia be so concerned about Syria? Well, as usual, it’s a case of follow the money.

Russia has a strong financial stake in the survival of the Assad regime. But it also opposes Western intervention on principle – particularly in the wake of NATO’s Libya campaign.

We’re talking a financial stake to the tune of $20 billion.

And (from that link), it gets messier.

Much of the funding for the arms deals reportedly is underwritten by Iran, which signed several defense agreements with Syria from 2005. That enables some of the weapons allegedly to be quietly transferred to Iran thus circumventing a United Nations ban of arms exports to the Islamic Republic.

Now isn’t that just fine and dandy.

Russia also claims it prefers stability essentially over the West’s preference for democracy. It says the alternative to these regimes, instead of being democracies, could indeed be much worse.

More on that stability mantra here:

Putin promised Russians stability, a word he repeated often throughout his speech. In countering criticism that he has tightened his control at the expense of democracy, Putin insisted that Russia needs a “stable political system” to guarantee “stable development” for decades to come.

Indeed.

Presumably, Russia didn’t like what happened in Eqypt either.

A second day of voting has begun in Egypt in the first elections since former President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown with indications of a high turnout in Cairo and other big cities.

The first day of polling for a new parliament was mainly peaceful.

Voting was extended by two hours to cope with long queues and few security problems were reported.

And from that link, the BBC’s Cairo correspondent, Kevin Connolly:

Most parties seem to agree though that Egypt is on course for a record turnout. An indication of the pent-up appetite for democracy – allowed free expression at last.

PS No wonder Russia didn’t like Obama’s InstaWar-that-wasn’t-actually-a-war in Libya. It could well cost them $10 billion in lost business deals if the new government there decides it’s not interested in deals Ghaddafi signed before his ousting.

UPDATE (Via JM)

It may well not be as tense between the US and Russia as my earlier links suggest.

Calm down, the aircraft carrier is not off Syria

With little having been disclosed to the public at this point, and no assurance as to what is actually being planned or proposed, speculation is rampant.  DEBKA and the Russian agency RT are hyperventilating today over a report that USS George H W Bush (CVN-77) has anchored off the Syrian coast.  But Bush actually pulled into Marseilles on the 25th for a long-scheduled port visit (and posted photos from a reception in Marseilles on Saturday at her Facebook page).  French local press confirms the carrier’s presence.

The Russians may or may not have dispatched three warships to Tartus to signal that they don’t want a Western intervention in Syria, and that they want to protect their alliance with the Assad regime.  The report originated with Syria, and Russia is being coy about the ships.  It would be very easy to disprove the Syrian news story, if the ships aren’t there.  And they may well be, calling in Tartus from the anti-piracy station off Somalia, as a Russian anti-piracy task force did in September.

Meanwhile, reports that the Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is in the Med are premature.  As of 24 November, the carrier and her escorts were still in the Northern Fleet operations area in the Barents Sea, awaiting a pre-deployment inspection.  The transit to the Strait of Gibraltar will take at least 8 days once it starts; the Russian media report that Kuznetsov will be in the Med in December.  Her deployment has been scheduled for some time; of course her activities are indicators of Russian national interests, but they aren’t necessarily an indication of reaction to yesterday’s news.

UPDATE II (via JM)

Kerching!

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    • Winston Smith
    • November 30th, 2011

    What a laugh that is!
    Syria has been stirring up trouble in Lebanon for decades, but now the Lebanese are exporting weapons back to Syria.
    What goes around….

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