Monday, July 24, 2006

Russia and Syria

In early June there was a series of reports - officially denied in Moscow, but confirmed from several other sources - that Russia plans to relocate its Black Sea warships from Ukraine to Syria. At the end of June, PINR discussed some of the details of the plan, noting that it involves
the installation of an air defense system with S-300PMU-2 Favorit [anti]-ballistic missiles. The missiles have a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles), allow a larger warhead and are equipped with a better guidance system than the previous version. The air defense system would be operated by Russia for the defense of the Tartus base and would provide potential protection for a large part of Syria.
Perceiving this as part of an ongoing attempt by Moscow to strengthen its political role in the Middle East, a role diminished from the days of the Soviet Union, but by no means defunct. PINR pointed out that
Russia's February 2006 meeting with Hamas is a clear example of this policy. Through that meeting, Russia tried to seize the initiative from the United States and the European Union, with the latter two's decision-making about the future of the peace process paralyzed by Hamas' election victory.
Given the present unstable situation in Lebanon, the pressure from Western public opinion for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, and the corresponding need for governments to align themselves with this direction, it's likely that Moscow will start to emphasize this area of its foreign policy in international fora.

Throughout the Cold War Syria was a client state of the Soviet Union, and it is reasonable to suppose that with the Kremlin's current reversion to Cold War thinking and tactics, the relationship with Syria will once more figure high on its agenda, as Moscow seeks to weaken the efforts of the United States and Europe to find a political solution that is favourable to Western interests.
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