Russia’s endgame in Syria: Follow the Money

Russia’s endgame in Syria: Follow the Money, Center for Security Policy, John Cordero, October 6, 2015

(Is Putin engaging in a holy war against the Islamic State, an oily war or both? — DM)

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The one strategic motivation for Russia that has been widely ignored is the economic one.  Qatar, the richest country in the world per capita and also owner of the world’s largest natural gas field, proposed in 2009 to jointly construct a gas pipeline running through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and into Europe.  Assad, not wanting to provoke Moscow, refused to sign on.  Instead, he floated an alternative: an Iran-Iraq-Syria and possibly Lebanon pipeline, to then follow under the Mediterranean to Europe. The Qatar-Turkey pipeline would run through majority Sunni countries with the exception of Syria’s Alawite regime. Assad’s counter proposal follows the Shia crescent.

Russia, not wanting to lose its primary market in Europe, is adamantly opposed to a prospective Qatari project.  A military presence in Syria will guarantee that even if Assad is removed from power, the pipeline will not be built.  It will look on favorably to the Iranian proposal, provided Gazprom and other state-owned companies get their share of the pie.

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As Vladimir Putin orders airstrikes against rebels of all stripes fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, there are important strategic economic goals behind Russia’s actions in Syria.  The short term goal is easy to discern: prevent Assad’s collapse as no alternative suitable to Russian interests exists, preserve Russia’s only naval base in the Middle East at Tartus, and promote Russia both at home and abroad as a world power that counterbalances American hegemony.

Much of the media has focused on Putin as a personal driver of Russian behavior.  While forays into Georgia and Ukraine have accomplished the tactical goals of preventing increased European Union presence in Russia’s sphere of influence, these have come at a high cost both politically and economically in the form of isolation and sanctions. Putin seems to have concluded that intervening in Syria in the name of fighting terrorism can only help repair Russia’s battered image.

It is important to at least try to understand Putin’s motivation without delving too much into psychoanalysis.  He is on record as lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”  In power since 2000, the former KGB officer is an ardent Russian nationalist, a promoter of a personality cult concerned with his country’s standing and perception in the world.  With his career spent in the service of the state, he is not one to take a background role in world affairs. Putin has effectively used Russia’s alliance with Iran as an effective tool to undermine the US, both regionally in the Gulf and globally with the nuclear deal.

The current buildup at Tartus and Latakia is nothing new: since Hafez al-Assad’s rise to power in 1970, the Former Soviet Union and then Russia was and is a stalwart ally, long attempting to position Syria as a counterbalance to American and Israeli military superiority in the Middle East.

Russia’s actions are also a message to the world: unlike the US, which abandoned long-time ally Hosni Mubarak during his time of need in Egypt, Russia is prepared to intervene, militarily if necessary, to preserve a friendly regime in danger.  Therefore, it pays for autocrats to court Moscow, especially if they possess valuable resources or are in prime strategic locations.

While Vladimir Putin ostensibly espouses the acceptable goal of a global alliance against IS, the strategic context is that he has entered into a sectarian alliance with Shia Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the proxy army Hezbollah (The P4+1) against the American-backed Sunni alliance of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the UAE, all of whom insist that Assad has no future in Syria.

Through its airstrikes, Russia continues to advance the prior Syrian strategy of focusing efforts against pro-Western rebels, with the recognition that, while dangerous, the Islamic State is the one party in the conflict the West will never support.

The Islamic State will take advantage of both the respite, and the propaganda value of being the recognized number one enemy of the infidel coalition, which it uses to rally supporters simply by pointing out that its enemies are gathering to destroy the renewed Caliphate.

The one strategic motivation for Russia that has been widely ignored is the economic one.  Qatar, the richest country in the world per capita and also owner of the world’s largest natural gas field, proposed in 2009 to jointly construct a gas pipeline running through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and into Europe.  Assad, not wanting to provoke Moscow, refused to sign on.  Instead, he floated an alternative: an Iran-Iraq-Syria and possibly Lebanon pipeline, to then follow under the Mediterranean to Europe. The Qatar-Turkey pipeline would run through majority Sunni countries with the exception of Syria’s Alawite regime. Assad’s counter proposal follows the Shia crescent.

Russia, not wanting to lose its primary market in Europe, is adamantly opposed to a prospective Qatari project.  A military presence in Syria will guarantee that even if Assad is removed from power, the pipeline will not be built.  It will look on favorably to the Iranian proposal, provided Gazprom and other state-owned companies get their share of the pie.

Pipeline politics in the region have a long and varied history of Russian involvement.  The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline was built only after Moscow’s demand for an alternative pipeline for Azeri oil to Russia was met.  During the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, US intelligence officials determined that an explosion on the pipeline near the Turkish-Georgian border was carried out via Russian government cyber warfare.  Days after the explosion, Russian fighter jets bombed positions in Georgia close to the pipeline. Although the BTC pipeline was built precisely to avoid Russian interference, the Kremlin has never let that stop them.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have also begun construction on a joint natural gas pipeline, theTANAP. This project’s stated goal is to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian natural gas, a prospect that cannot please Moscow.   Both the BTC and TANAP bypass Armenia, a Russian ally and wary of its neighbors in the Caucasus.

As the endpoint for the Qatari project, Turkey is adamant in calling for Assad to step down or be removed, which dovetails with the proposed Sunni pipeline.  By clearing the way through Syria, Qatar and Saudi Arabia can receive a handsome return on their investment in backing jihadis fighting Assad.  On the other hand, Iran will not sit idly by and leave potential billions of dollars in the hands of its ideological and regional enemies.

Russian intervention in Syria is just beginning. There is every possibility that it will expand as more targets are found, perhaps those that are in the way of the proposed Iranian pipeline, directly threatening Damascus and by extension, the Russian monopoly of gas exports to Europe.  For the time being, Putin has the world’s attention.

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21 Comments on “Russia’s endgame in Syria: Follow the Money”

  1. David Says:

    This is, in my opinion, one of the best articles published here in the last weeks.

    Recommended to all:
    War is a Racket, by Major General Smedley Butler.

  2. Tyrannovar Says:

    This article is fine – AS FAR AS IT GOES – it does provide some useful information.
    But it is very one sided.
    Is that deliberate, with the intent to mislead? Or just due to limiting its focus to a single aspect of the situation?
    The impression I get is that this is just the latest broadside in the West’s campaign to vilify and demonize Putin and Russia.

    By the way, someone should refer back to the comments section of this article in WarSclerotic from September 29th, 2015
    Trump on Putin Controlling Syria: ‘OK, Fine,’ Him Fighting ISIS ‘Wonderful Thing,’ ‘Very Little Downside’
    https://warsclerotic.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/trump-on-putin-controlling-syria-ok-fine-him-fighting-isis-wonderful-thing-very-little-downside/

    It takes two to tango.
    It should be emphasized that it is the Sunni block ( the US, Saudis, Gulf states) that are using ISIS to destroy Assad so that the Sunni block can control the oil and gas pipeline route through Syria to Europe. The upshot of the machinations of the US has been the destruction of Syria, hundreds of thousands of Syrians dead, Christian communities dead and destroyed or running for their lives, the Kurds under attack, a flood of “refugees” (really invaders) into Europe and a confrontation with the Russians that could turn into WWIII in a flash. To give the impression that Russia is the sole bad actor in this disaster is wrong.

    It should be obvious to everyone by now that the West’s attack on Assad is working out about as well as the assassination of Kadafi in Libya, with the same horrendous consequences for the people of that country.

    The US project in Syria is of a piece with its previous nation wrecking in Libya and Yugoslavia and Serbia, and even Iraq.
    Details of these escapades can be found in this article from March 4th, 2015
    How the West Got Hooked On “Humanitarian War”
    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/03/original-sin-first-humanitarian-war.html

    And then the nation wrecking that the US is doing today in Syria, and its alliance with Al Qaeda, to control the oil supply has been done before, in Serbia.
    Read this longish article, from 2013?:
    NATO Backed Islamic Terrorism In The Balkans
    http://www.nlpwessex.org/docs/balkansusbackterrorism.htm

    from the above link:
    “US goals in the use of the KLA as a proxy force, similar to the funding of the Contras against the leftwing Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s, were partly to remove Milosevic and break up Yugoslavia as one of the remaining Communist regimes. But related motives were to break Russia’s monopoly over oil and gas transport routes and secure pro-western governments in the strategic Black Sea-Caspian Sea oil-rich basin. A crucial oil corridor, called the Trans-Balkan pipeline, designed to become the main route to the west for oil and gas extracted in central Asia, was to run from the Black Sea to the Adriatic via Bulgaria, Macedonia near the border with Kosovo, and Albania. Another was to run across Serbia to Adriatic ports in Croatia and Italy, fed by a pipeline running from a Black Sea port in Romania. The implications of this are stark.”
    Michael Meacher, former UK Environment Minister
    The path to friendship goes via the oil and gas fields”

    To control the oil routes through the Balkans, President Clinton allied the US with Islam, attacked a Christian country and went to war against Serbia under false pretenses.

    To use a term already worn out by Sean Hannity, the “ostensible” motives for US involvement, e.g. fighting ISIS in Syria or deposing an evil dictator like Assad, are not always the true motives. It’s not just Russia, but the US that is willing to, and has destroyed whole nations to control the oil supply.

    The Clintons (plural) love affair with Islam is right in line with the Bush’s and Obama’s Islamophilia. And it’s not just foreign countries that are suffering for it. Why else do you think Europe is being flooded with Muslim invaders, and why is Obama doing everything he can get away with to make the US Islamofriendly, to the great cost and dismay of the American people?

  3. Tyrannovar Says:

    Syria could be the outlier that nobody nobody sees coming. Syria represents a clear and present danger to American hegemony. Syria poses an imminent threat to the Washington ruling class elite, the globalist corporations, and Western “to big to fail” banking interests. Syria has the potential of knocking the mighty United States off its privileged perch because it is the gateway to the new dominate energy pipelines that run through Iran, that end at Syrian ports … and could very well end the U.S. Petrodollar monopoly.

    Gazprom is a massive Russian owned natural gas producer that accounts for over 15% of Russia’s GDP. Gazprom will use and control these pipelines to deliver natural gas to markets throughout Europe, India, China and even the UK. Putins Russia is the “OPEC” of NaturalGas. Europe and China needs gas. Syria holds the key that unlocks the floodgate for all that liquified energy to flow uninterrupted to Europe and the East.

    – See more at: http://www.contrarianism.net/syria-the-art-of-war-and-the-petrodollar/#sthash.9CsElD0j.dpuf

  4. Tyrannovar Says:

    Syria, The Art of War, and the Petrodollar
    http://www.contrarianism.net/syria-the-art-of-war-and-the-petrodollar/

    This whole article explains the whole situation in Syria more clearly than anything else I’ve seen.

  5. Louisiana Steve Says:

    Gazprom… I remember something about their ‘non political’ response in the past and their disregard for profit in the name of good relations with their customers and neighbors. Let’s see….oh yeah:

    Russia’s Gazprom Threatens to Shut Off Gas Supplies to Ukraine (straight from the horse’s mouth)

    http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/516473.html

    Russia threatens to shut off gas to Europe after it was funneled back to Ukraine

    http://www.examiner.com/article/russia-threatens-to-shut-off-gas-to-europe-after-it-was-funneled-back-to-ukraine

    So, if Europe and others don’t play along, Russia will make your next winter quite uncomfortable. As for me, I prefer the West be in charge of my energy, and yes, that even includes the ‘evil and profit loving’ USA.

    • joopklepzeiker Says:

      Ukraine Pay your gas bills and do get used by the USA on the geo political chess board brzezinski style .

  6. Louisiana Steve Says:

    More like, pay your bills or we will bury you.

    • joopklepzeiker Says:

      MM, i see, supporting islamo fascist and neo nazi,s is good ?

      I will not go again into the geo politics about North stream and south stream pipelines again, did that before in details .


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