UPDATE: Hardly reassuring (from Bloomberg): *U.S. IS `DISGUSTED' WITH RUSSIA, AMBASSADOR RICE SAYS AT UN
The world is suddenly aflutter in its usual fake indignation (how many times have we seen this) having realized what has been going on in Syria for months on end. It was none other than the Headhunter In Chief who "condemned the "unspeakable assault" Saturday by Syrian forces on the city of Homs, a sustained attack that activists say killed more than 200 people in what may be the bloodiest confrontation of the uprising against Bashar Assad's regime. The assault sparked fierce international outcry ahead of a meeting Saturday of the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. and other nations are pushing for a vote on an Arab League-backed resolution calling for Assad to step down." Needless to say, just like in the case of Libya, both China and Russia are now a confirmed veto for any security council resolution that enforces a regime change, no fly zone, or what have you. Only this time the stake for Russia (and China as well, as Syria is nothing but a gateway to Iran), are far higher. And as Zero Hedge noted regarding Iranian developments yesterday, "We've seen this play by play many times before and frankly at this point the posturing is getting just silly. What we do want to find out, however, is how will Russia get involved in all of this. Because if recent actions are any precedent, we fully expect Putin to send an aircraft carrier, purely symbolically, in the Arabian Sea himself, just to indicate that any invasion, pardon, liberation, of Iran crude, will first have to go through him. And not to mention China... or India." Sure enough, speaking of aircraft carriers, it was none other than the Russian navy's aircraft carrier Kuznetsov that landed at the Russian naval base in Tartus "in support of the al-Assad regime" back in November, and it is the Tartus base that is arguably one of the most critical locations for the US military vis-a-vis developments in the middle east. And here is why Russia will block any attempt by the west to impose its own will in Syria.
The Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria.
Tartus hosts a Soviet-era naval supply and maintenance base, under a 1971 agreement with Syria, which is still staffed by Russian naval personnel. The base was established during the Cold War to support the Soviet Navy's fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. During the 1970s, similar support points were located in Egypt and Latakia, Syria. In 1977, the Egyptian support bases at Alexandria and Mersa Matruh were evacuated and the ships and property were transferred to Tartus, where the naval support base was transformed into the 229th Naval and Estuary Vessel Support Division. Seven years later, the Tartus support point was upgraded to the 720th Logistics Support Point.
In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and its Mediterranean fleet, the 5th Mediterranean Squadron which was composed of ships from the North Sea Fleet and the Black Sea Fleet, ceased its existence. Since then, there have been occasional expeditions by Russian Navy vessels and submarines to the Mediterranean Sea. The naval logistics support base in Syria is now part of the Black Sea Fleet. It consists of three floating docks of which one is operational, a floating workshop, storage facilities, barracks and other facilities.
Since Russia forgave Syria of three-fourths, or $9.6 billion, of its $13.4 billion Soviet-era debt and became its main arms supplier in 2006, Russia and Syria have conducted talks about allowing Russia to develop and enlarge its naval base, so that Russia can strengthen its naval presence in the Mediterranean. Amid Russia's deteriorating relations with the West, because of the 2008 South Ossetia War and plans to deploy a US missile defense shield in Poland, President Assad agreed to the port’s conversion into a permanent Middle East base for Russia’s nuclear-armed warships. Since 2009, Russia has been renovating the Tartus naval base and dredging the port to allow access for its larger naval vessels.
On September 8, 2008, ten Russian warships docked in Tartus. According to Lebanese-Syrian commentator Joseph Farah, the flotilla which moved to Tartus consisted of the Moskva cruiser and four nuclear missile submarines. Two weeks later, Russian Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said the nuclear-powered battlecruiser Peter The Great, accompanied by three other ships, sailed from the Northern Fleet's base of Severomorsk. The ships would cover about 15,000 nautical miles (28,000 km) to conduct joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy. Dygalo refused to comment on reports in the daily Izvestia claiming that the ships were to make a stopover in the Syrian port of Tartus on their way to Venezuela. Russian officials said the Soviet-era base there was being renovated to serve as a foothold for a permanent Russian navy presence in the Mediterranean.
In 2009, RIA Novosti reported that the base would be made fully operational to support anti-piracy operations. It would also support a Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean as a base for "guided-missile cruisers and even aircraft carriers".