From Beirut, the BBC’s Jim Muir reports that “[I]It’s the villages and hills to the east and north of Jisr al-Shughour that now seem to be the focus of the army’s efforts to re-impose the regime’s control over the defiant area. State media said the army was chasing what they called the “remnants of armed terrorist gangs” through the surrounding countryside. Activists said local men of military age were being rounded up, houses damaged and crops destroyed. The units involved in this assault are believed to be from the army’s much-feared 4th division, under the direct command of President Assad’s brother, Maher. This was the division that ruthlessly suppressed defiance down in the city of Deraa in the south, near the Jordanian border, where the whole uprising began in March and where dissent continues to smoulder”. Turkey has defiantly opened its borders to refugees, set up tent cities, and urged the Syrian regime to exercise caution. As remarked by Sevil Küçükkoşum, “Turkey has begun a substantial re-evaluation of its Syrian policy, as more than 7,000 Syrians have now fled to Hatay while another 15,000 mass near the border, according to reports”. But, as indicated by Iran’s Press TV, not everybody opposes President Assad.
Now that the world, in the shape of the UN and NATO, is intervening in Libya for the sake of “protecting civilians” and ensuring that Colonel Gaddafi leaves the scene, voices have emerged urging a similar approach to Syria and President Assad’s Baath regime. Even though the situation in Libya is far from clear, and Gaddafi appears more than unwilling to give up without a fight, the principle of “humanitarian intervention”, even if it might seem nothing but a hypocritical ploy to ensure that Libyan oil does not get lost and regime change usher in the demise of one of the West’s most persistent bogeyman, would also seem to be applicable to Syria. Still, as worded by the erstwhile career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service M. K. Bhadrakumar, “Russia is stubbornly blocking US attempts to drum up a case for Libya-style intervention in Syria”. And why would Russia be blocking such attempts. As long ago as 27 February 2009, the state-sponsored news broadcaster RT (or Russia Today) reported that ‘Russian warships have returned to the naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus, used by the Soviet Union since the late sixties, after more than a decade of absence’.
Last year the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that ‘Russia will finish the fundamental renovation at its naval logistics base in the Syrian port of Tartus by 2011, said the Navy’s General Staff on Wednesday. Having been upgrading the Tartus port for several years, the Navy’s General Staff said in a statement that “the main purpose is to develop logistics . . . to upgrade the existing coastal infrastructures and create new ones that will provide convenient moorage and stable supply for Russian ships pulling into Tartus with fuel, water, food and other supplies. The bulk of the works is to be completed in 2011,” said the statement. The Navy’s General Staff also said that its fleet already had a functioning logistics facility at Tartus, whose condition and capabilities fell short of requirements’.
The Americans are of course fully aware of Russia’s designs in Syria, and are now staging joint U.S.-Ukraine naval exercises in the Black Sea. Russia has been craving access to the Mediterranean since the days of Peter the Great (1682-1725). The Soviets finally succeeded in realising Tsarist ambitions in the 20th century, and in the 21st independent and “free-market” Russia is once again following the lead of its Communist precursor. As the largest country on earth, with untold energy reserves underground and a looming spectre of alcoholism above ground, Russia today is once again engaged in challenging the U.S. in the region and further afield. Do these joint naval exercises make the Russians feel nervous??? Moscow’s Foreign Ministry has issued this official statement recently: “While leaving aside the unsettled issue of a possible European missile shield architecture, Russia would like to know, in compliance with the Russia-NATO Lisbon summit decisions, what ‘aggravation’ the US command meant by moving the basic strike unit of the regional missile defense grouping being formed by NATO in the region, from the Mediterranean to the East?”.
These power games also affect another player in the region, attested by the following report from Jerusalem dating back to August 2008: ‘Syrian President Bashar Assad arrived in Russia . . . for a two-day visit during which he is seeking to purchase advanced weaponry from Moscow including the Pantsyr-S1 Air Defense Missile system, the BUK-M1 surface-to-air medium-range missile system and the sophisticated S-300 long range anti-aircraft missile system already purchased by Iran. Syria has also reportedly offered to allow Moscow to deploy its Russian Iskander missile system, an advanced short-range, solid fuel-propelled missile, in its territory. The new Russo-Syrian military cooperation comes in reaction to the recent US-Poland missile deal which positions NATO missile systems on Russia’s western front, eliciting harsh threats and criticism’.
A month later, the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN) aired this report. Israel’s current Premier Bibi is all but outspoken about his dislike for Iran’s regime and his desire to attack Iran unilaterally.
All the while, hapless Syrians keep pouring into the Turkish province of Hatay. A Turkish government insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Hürriyet Daily News that “Turkey will keep engaging with Syria [to urge it to enact reforms and abstain from violence], but Syria’s attitude will determine our position”. The Associated Press remarked that “[t]roops led by President Bashar al-Assad’s brother regained control of Jisr al-Shughour on Sunday [, 12 June], sending in tanks and helicopter gunships after shelling the town. But residents were still terrified; Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday [, 13 June] that hundreds of Syrians have crossed over since Sunday”. On the other hand, one should not lose sight of the fact that the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen too are inter-connected and dependent upon a whole range of alliances and counter-alliance. For instance, last year, Xinhua also reported that ‘Russia did not exclude the possibility of building naval logistic facilities in Socotra Island, Yemen, as well as in Tripoli, Libya, but for now, the choice is limited to Tartus’. As for Turkey’s southern neighbour, Bhadrakumar has this straightforward analysis: “Put simply, the US wants Russia to leave Syria alone for the West to tackle. But Russia knows what follows will be that the Russian naval base there would get shut down by a pro-Western successor regime in Damascus that succeeds Assad”. And that would spell an end to Russia centuries’ old dream of having a steady access to the Mediterranean, given the equally uncertain future awaiting Gaddafi.
 Jim Muir, “Analysis” BBC News (13 June 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13746633.
 Sevil Küçükkoşum, “Ankara revisits Syrian policy” Hürriyet Daily News (13 June 2011). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=ankara-revisits-syrian-policy-2011-06-13.
 M K Bhadrakumar, “Syria on the boil, US warship in Black Sea” Asia Times Online (14 June 2011). http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MF14Ak02.html.
 “Russian Navy to upgrade Tartus naval base by 2011” Xinhua (13 January 2010). http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2010-01/14/content_12805592.htm.
 “Alcohol Around the World: World Health Organization Report” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (03 March 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/alcohol-around-the-world-world-health-organization-report/.
 M K Bhadrakumar, “Syria on the boil, US warship in Black Sea”.
 Sevil Küçükkoşum, “Ankara revisits Syrian policy”.
 “Lips sealed as number of Syrian refugees in Turkey swells to 7,000” Today’s Zaman (13 June 2011). http://www.todayszaman.com/news-247211-lips-sealed-as-number-of-syrian-refugees-in-turkey-swells-to-7000.html.
 “Russian Navy to upgrade Tartus naval base by 2011”.
 M K Bhadrakumar, “Syria on the boil, US warship in Black Sea”.
The VOA website posted a Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver, with the help of Lisa Schlein: the ‘World Health Organization says alcohol abuse is the third leading cause of death and disability in the world. A new WHO report says the harmful use of alcohol kills two and one-half million people a year. And officials say action is needed to reduce the problem. The WHO [recently] released the “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2011” . . . The report shows young people at risk. It says three hundred twenty thousand people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine die yearly from alcohol-related causes. That is nine percent of all deaths in that age group. Shekhar Saxena is director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization. He says alcohol is responsible for one-third of the deaths among young people in some parts of the world. SHEHAR SAXENA: “Consumption and harmful effects of alcohol are increasing in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, which have less powerful regulations and which have less health services available.” The World Health Organization report finds that six percent of all male deaths worldwide are related to alcohol. This is true in only one percent of female deaths. The report says one in five men die from alcohol-related causes in the Russian Federation and neighboring countries. There are four main causes of alcohol-related death. Injury from car accidents or violence is one. Diseases like cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, heart and blood system diseases are the others. The WHO report says alcohol abuse also adds to the development of two hundred other diseases. However, the majority of people in the world are not alcohol drinkers. The report says in two thousand five, almost half of men and two-thirds of women did not drink alcohol at all. Dr. Saxena says people who are dependent on alcohol live ten years less on average than those who do not have the problem. SHEHAR SAXENA: “I think a large proportion of what we are talking about in the two point five million deaths are in the age groups of people who should not die at that age. So, these are premature deaths. The majority of deaths is below the age of sixty, actually.” The WHO has a plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. It includes raising taxes on alcohol, reducing the number of places to buy alcohol and raising the drinking age. Officials say other measures include effective drunk driving laws and banning some alcohol advertising’.
In the recent past, restricting advertising for such products as cigarettes, in conjunction with actual smoking bans, has had beneficial effects, in the sense that nowadays smokers have become pariahs in many parts of the Western world. Consequently smokers’ numbers have dropped significantly, much to the chagrin of the big tobacco companies that are now heavily targeting developing countries with ad campaigns and other incentives. With regards to alcohol advertising, a number of actions have been taken in a number of countries over the past years. Austria for instance, a country in the centre of Europe with a population that is officially Catholic in outlook and practice, also has codes which restrict advertisements for beer and wine, whereas ads for spirits are completely banned on TV and radio. And, of even greater interest in the present context, no representations showing a connection with children, youngsters, driving or sports are allowed in advertisements for any kind of beverage or product containing alcohol in Austria. In Ireland, then, the government also controls the prices of beer and spirits, which are subsequently rather steep. In Finland, on the other hand, people are only allowed to purchase intoxicating beverages during set hours, while the prices are equally high. The Fins southern neighbours have serious problems with alcohol consumption. Last year, the BBC divulged that “Russians drink seriously. As a country they get through on average about 18 litres (32 pints) of pure alcohol a year per person”. In 2009 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “kick-started his campaign” to lower the consumption of alcohol by his compatriots, calling their zeal to drink a “national disgrace”. Annually, 35,000 Russian die from alcohol poisoning. In Western Europe, there is now, and has been for some time, the unsettling trend of underage binge drinking, particularly in the UK, a country that sees a sizeable portion of its population spend every weekend in a drunken haze.
 “WHO Says Alcohol Abuse a Leading Cause of Death, Disability” VOA (15 February 2011). http://www.voanews.com/learningenglish/home/World-Health-Organization-Says-Alcohol-Abuse-is-an-International-Problem—116281509.html.