‘Putin’s adventure stokes fears over his real intentions’ This is the language used by Bloomberg News today to describe Russia’s decision to bomb ISIS, and thereby to support the Assad regime in Syria.
There’s been similar language in the media over the past week or so with a fluid mix of adjectives describing Putin as somehow wily and irresponsible.
And what is said of Putin’s ambitions may be true. I wouldn’t know. What I do know from what I have read over the past several years is that there is behind-the-scenes involvement between Syria, Iran, and Russia.
But there is also something far more obvious, clear and undeniable. That is that Russia has a naval base at Tartus on the Mediterranean coast of Syria.
And if the Asad regime goes, so might Russia’s base.
The base is Russia’s only refuelling depot in the Mediterranean. Without it, Russia’s naval vessels would have to refuel and refit on the Black Sea and exit via Turkey, which is of course a member of NATO.
There is of course, Sebastopol – a Russian naval base on the Black Sea. In 2010, Russia and Ukraine ratified a treaty that gave Ukraine access to Russian gas in exchange for an extension of Russia’s lease of the base at Sebastopol through to 2042, with options to extend for further five-year periods beyond that.
Then came the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.
There are contrary views of what the Ukrainian revolution was and is about. Is it a country that wants to express its democratic wish to join the West? Is it a country run by gangsters and opportunists banked by Western companies that see opportunities for a new market if Ukraine joins the Western club?
What you think depends on who you read.
Was Russia’s action in annexing Crimea a a long-term plan crafted to look like a democratic response to the Ukrainian revolution? Or was it was a reasonable response to a desire by the Russian-population of the Crimea not be dragged away from mother Russia?
Again, what you think depends on who you read.
One thing is clear though and that is that the 2014 Ukrainian revolution put the Russian gas-for-bases treaty at risk.
And without Sebastopol, Russia would have to rely on its Black Sea port at Odessa. And the two ports are not the same. Sebastapol has a much more equable climate.
So putting all this together, we get Russia protecting Sebastapol and Tartus. And against that backdrop, its plan to bomb ISIS is easy to understand.