Several days ago, various media outlets misinterpreted a statement out of Russia, in which it was said that Assad may be defeated by the local Al Qaeda-funded and US-supported rebels, and which many took as an indication that the geopolitics in the Middle East may be shifting as Russian support of Syria was ending. Turns out nothing could be further from the truth, and moments ago the AP reports that a "Russian navy squadron has set off for the Mediterranean" with destination Syria. The official point of the exercise: evacuation. The unofficial: anything but. "The Defense Ministry said Tuesday that the ships will rotate with those that have been in the area since November. Russian diplomats said last week that Moscow is preparing plans to evacuate thousands of Russians from Syria if necessary. The ministry did not say whether the navy ships are intended for an evacuation." Remember that "evacuation" was the pretext when Russia also sent the Grand Missile Cruiser Moskva off the Gaza coast last month at the height of the latest escalation of the Israel-Gaza conflict. The pretext then? "Evacuation" too. Why anyone would send their Black Sea Navy flag ship to 'evacuate' a few hundred citizens, all of whom are perfectly proficient with instructions on how to board a plane, is of course, anyone guess.
Alternatively, why Russia would go ahead and do everything to defend its strategic Syria naval base in Tartus, and a regime it has been very sympathetic to in the past, is pretty clear to everyone, especially now that the US and NATO are openly supplying Syria's northern neighbor Turkey with missiles: for now defensive, or so the media spin goes.
The squadron of five ships that sailed from the Baltic Sea base of Baltiysk includes a destroyer, a tugboat, a tanker and two large amphibious vessels that could evacuate hundreds of people.
Right, evacuation is the Destroyer's primary role. Look it up: it's in the SOP. And just in case one squadron was not enough, here is another.
Another group of three navy ships departed Tuesday from Severomorsk, the main base of Russia's Northern Fleet on the Kola Peninsula.
While their official mission is anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden, the ships will sail past the Syrian shores and may linger there if need be.
The Interfax news agency, citing unidentified naval sources, reported that the navy command wants the ships to be on hand for the task if needed. It said the mission's duration will depend on the situation in Syria.
Last week, a senior Russian diplomat said for the first time that Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing control and the rebels might win the civil war, a statement that appeared to signal that Moscow has started positioning itself for an endgame in Syria. But the Foreign Ministry disavowed Mikhail Bogdanov's statement the next day, saying his words were misinterpreted and that Moscow's position on the crisis hasn't shifted.
Russia's base in the Syrian port of Tartus is its only naval outpost outside the former Soviet Union. Moscow has been Assad's main ally, shielding him from international sanctions over a brutal crackdown on an uprising that began in March 2011 and turned into the civil war, killing more than 40,000 people.
The latest naval deployment comes as the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that two Russians were kidnapped alongside an Italian in Syria and that their captors have asked for a ransom for their release. The three, who worked at a Syrian steel plant, were kidnapped late Monday on the road between Tartus and Homs.
The ministry identified those kidnapped as V. V. Gorelov, Abdesattar Hassun and Mario Belluomo and said the kidnappers have contacted the Hmisho steel plant by telephone and demanded a ransom for their release. It did not specify the amount.
Then again, ignore all of this: we are confident the UN will soon pass a resolution banning all US evacuating destroyers, and all shall be well in the world, as Russia rolls over and allows "developed world" interests to partition its strategic foreign interests, even if that means handing over its prized possession, European gas dependence, to the west.
Or maybe not.