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”.