Pyotr Veliky – flagship of Russia's Northern Fleet | Image source and courtesy - en.rian.ru; © RIA Novosti. Sergey Eshenko
Is this true
This is intriguing news.
No other major newspaper or news agency in English has reported this. Even the website of the RIA-Novosti makes no mention of this. While The Hindu and its editorial line and business policies has many detractors, at least its credibility is rarely questioned. It’s path breaking work on the Bofors scandal stood intense scrutiny for factual integrity.
This post written by Vladimir Radyuhin, in The Hindu is at least, not without credibility. Vladimir Radyuhin is himself an old hand on the Indo-Russia news circuit.
The Hindu reports
The rift between Russia and the West over Syria and Iran has widened on Tuesday as Moscow sent warships to Syrian shores in a show of support for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and slammed new United States sanctions against Iran as “unacceptable”.
Three Russian warships have entered Syrian territorial waters, Russian wire services reported on Tuesday citing Syrian sources. The news came a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West and Arab monarchies of engaging in “political provocation” in Syria by rejecting dialogue between the opposition and authorities and welcoming armed attacks on government offices.
The Russian warships were reported to be heading towards the Syrian port of Tartus, where Russia has a naval base. A source close to the Syrian President said the Russian ships would patrol Syrian waters “to prevent any military interference”. Media reports said the ships may try to intercept small vessels that are smuggling weapons for Syrian opposition from the Lebanon and Turkey. (via The Hindu : News / International : Russian warships in Syrian waters. Subsequently, other reports, started showing up in search results. Linked above.).
Five days after this post, rt.com, a prominent Russian news site, also confirmed.
The Russian battle group will consist of three vessels led by the heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser, Admiral Kuznetsov.
News of Russia’s naval deployment in Tartus came shortly after the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush anchored off Syria, along with additional naval vessels. The US battle group is to remain in the Mediterranean, allegedly to conduct maritime security operations and support missions as part of Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. The US 6th Fleet is also patrolling the area, Interfax reports.
Nevertheless, he added that the presence of a military force other than NATO’s is very useful for this region, because “it will prevent the outbreak of an armed conflict,” Izvestia quoted Kravchenko as saying.
“Of course, the Russian naval forces in the Mediterranean will be incommensurate with those of the US 6th Fleet, which includes one or two aircraft carriers and several escort ships,” Admiral Kravchenko explained. “But today, no one talks about possible military clashes, since an attack on any Russian ship would be regarded as a declaration of war with all the consequences.”
Russian military officials insist that the move has no connection with the ongoing crisis in the region and was planned a year ago, the Izvestia newspaper reports. Apart from Syria, the aircraft carrier and its escort ships are set to visit the Lebanese capital, Beirut, Genoa in Italy and Cyprus, says the former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Viktor Kravchenko.
The mission is set to start in early December, when the Admiral Kuznetsov begins its journey in the Barents Sea, accompanied by another vessel of Russia’s Northern Fleet, the heavy ASW ship Admiral Chabanenko. The group will then skirt the European continent from the west and enter the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar. (via Sea alert: Russian warships head for Syria — RT).
New actions on old agreements
Russia has an old agreement with Syria – and under this agreement, Russian ships have been regular visitors and users of this naval base. An old report from UPI states
TARTUS, Syria, Sept. 19 (UPI) — Ten Russian warships are docked in the Syrian port city of Tartus to the apparent surprise of the Israeli military, military sources say.
The unidentified sources said Israeli military leaders were unaware that Russian had already moved so many vessels into Syrian territory following a Sept. 12 agreement between the two countries, DEBKAfile, a Israeli news Web site, reported Friday.
The military intelligence Web site said the agreement reached between Russian navy commander Adm. Vladimir Wysotsky and Syrian naval commander Gen. Taleb al-Barri allows Russia to use Syrian ports as long-term naval bases. (via Sources: Russian warships in Syrian port – UPI.com).
Iran into the game
Interestingly, a few months ago, Iranian warships, a frigate and a supply vessel crossed the Suez and docked into Syria. RIA-Novosti reports,
Senior Iranian military figures are in the Syrian capital Damascus for a ceremony to greet the arrival of two Iranian warships later on Thursday.
The two vessels involved, the British-built frigate the Alvand and supply vessel the Kharg, docked at the Port of Latakia on Wednesday. Israel last week described the planned move as a “provocation.”
It is the first time since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution that Iranian warships passed through the Suez Canal.
Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sattari is leading the delegation of military officials in Syria.
The ceremony at Lattakia later today will feature officials from both countries, a senior Iranian official told the IRNA news agency.
In his comments on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country “takes a grave view” of the Iranian step. (via Iranian military to ‘greet’ warships in Syria amid Israeli concern | World | RIA Novosti).
Yakhont missiles | Image source and courtesy - © RIA Novosti. Vladimir Fedorenko
Last year RIA-Novosti reported the deployment of a new missile system in Syria – by Russia.
Russian-made mobile anti-ship missile systems sold to Syria could be used to protect a Russian naval supply and maintenance site near Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus, a Russian arms trade expert said on Monday.
Russia earlier announced it would honor a 2007 contract on the delivery of several Bastion anti-ship missile systems armed with SS-N-26 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles to Syria, despite U.S. and Israel security concerns.
Syria needs to shield a 600-km stretch of its coastline from potential amphibious assaults.
“One of the purposes of the deployment of Bastion missile systems in Syria is to ensure the protection of the Russian naval site in Tartus,” said Igor Korotchenko, head of a Moscow-based think tank on the international arms trade. (via Yakhont missiles could protect Russian naval base in Syria – analyst | Defense | RIA Novosti).
Part II (Updated – 28-11-2011)
An analysis, dated September 2011, from the Egyptian Weekly, Al Ahram started showing up on search engines. This post by Al Ahram nuances the Soviet position. It says
“Should Russia should accede to Western plans for the Middle East?” To “learn from its mistake” in Libya and dump Al-Assad immediately, whatever the internal dynamics of Syria may be?
The two camps represent the two poles in post-Soviet Russian thinking: the Eurasianists vs the Atlantists. The former trying to put Russia at the centre of an independent anti-Western coalition. The latter are happy to throw in the towel, to accede to the Western hegemony which characterises the postmodern imperial order unfolding since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
There are powerful forces in Russia behind both views. Atlantist enthusiast Russian President Dmitri Medvedev was responsible for the success of UN Resolution 1973 allowing the NATO bombing of Libya. In March, he overrode broad Russian opposition including by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who denounced the Western invasion as a new Crusade. Medvedev had to fire Russian ambassador to Libya Vladimir Chamov when the latter sided with Putin. Medvedev now warns Al-Assad of a “dire fate” if he continues his campaign against the opposition.
Those who want to accede to the Western agenda complain that in Libya Tatneft and Gazprom Neft will have to abandon their projects. “We won’t have anything; Libya’s oil market will shift in favor of Italian ENI. After them, the American and European companies,” whines Uralsib Capital analyst Alexei Kokin. The Russian Railways contract to build a 550km high-speed rail line from Sirte to Benghazi also appears to be under review by the new government in Tripoli.
Libya is far away, and was never much of a Soviet-Russian ally. In Syria, Russian economic and security stakes are much higher. Not only is Syria one of Russia’s largest arms export customers, with current and pending deals valued at $10 billion, but Al-Assad’s regime is also a significant Russian security partner in the Middle East. The Russian navy is dependent on Syrian ports to sustain its operations in the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Russia’s NATO Ambassador Dmitri Rogozin scoffed at the idea that the West had any altruistic motives in invading Libya. He told the EUobserver on 2 September that the Libya experience shows NATO will now “expand towards its southern borders”, and though he was happy NATO had stopped expanding eastward, “we cannot trust [that] NATO will not exceed the mandate and NATO bombs will not be dropped on Damascus.”
Concerning the proposed UN resolution against Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “This is a call for a repeat of the Libyan scenario. The BRICS nations will not allow this to happen.” Russia is unwilling to contemplate another Western-incited civil war and invasion leading to regime change. For the moment, the Eurasianists have the upper hand.
Underlying the Atlantist-Eurasianist debate is the fate of the entire Western project to transform the Middle East, which has been in the works since the 1980s with the rise of the neocons. This plan was to bring about a controlled chaos in the region, creating a series of weak statelets that would benefit a strong Israel.
After much delay, Reuters, a leading Western news agencies confirmed,
Russia is sending a flotilla of warships to its naval base in Syria in a show of force which suggests Moscow is willing to defend its interests in the strife-torn country as international pressure mounts on President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Russia, which has a naval maintenance base in Syria and whose weapons trade with Damascus is worth millions of dollars annually, joined China last month to veto a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Assad’s government.
Izvestia newspaper reported on Monday, citing retired Russian Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, that Russia plans to send its flagship aircraft carrier the “Admiral Kuznetsov” along with a patrol ship, an anti-submarine craft and other vessels.
“Having any military force apart from NATO is very beneficial for the region as it prevents the outbreak of armed conflict,” Kravchenko, who was navy chief of staff from 1998-2005, was quoted as saying by Izvestia.
Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, abstained from voting on a resolution that paved the way for Western military intervention in Libya but later criticised the mission saying NATO overstapped its mandate and interfered in a civil war.
Russia said it lost of tens of billions of dollars in potential arms deals with Muammar Gaddafi’s fall and is loathe to lose another customer in the region. Syria accounted for 7 percent of Russia’s total of $10 billion in arms deliveries abroad in 2010, according to CAST. (via Russia sending warships to its base in Syria | News by Country | Reuters).
Another leading news agency, Bloomberg, echoed similarly,
Russia will send three warships to its naval base in Syria next month, including the country’s only aircraft carrier, Izvestia reported, citing navy officials.
The vessels including the Admiral Kuznetsov, which will have eight Su-33 fighter aircraft, several new MiG-29K fighter jets and two Ka-27 naval helicopters on board, will arrive at the Mediterranean port of Tartous in the spring, the Moscow- based daily said.
Russia maintains a servicing point for naval vessels in Tartous, its only military facility outside the former Soviet republics. About 600 Russian Defense Ministry staff work at the base, Izvestia said.
The naval mission to Syria, which has been an ally since the Soviet era, will prevent NATO military involvement in the Middle Eastern country, the newspaper cited former Russian naval chief Victor Kravchenko as saying. (via Russia Sends Warships, Aircraft Carrier to Syria, Izvestia Says – Bloomberg).
Yet another leading Western agency, UPI confirmed
Russia plans to send a fleet of warships, including its only aircraft carrier, to the Syrian port of Tartus in early spring next year, a senior officer said.
“The call of the Russian ships in Tartus should not be seen as a gesture towards what is going on in Syria … . This was planned already in 2010 when there were no such events there,” the officer was quoted as saying.
Adm. Viktor Kravchenko, former navy chief of staff, said the presence of the warships at the Syrian port “will prevent the outbreak of armed conflict.” (via Russia to send ships to Syria next year – UPI.com).